The Church and Race: Objections



Two open letters addressing racial injustice were recently published in the Christian Chronicle:

These were accompanied by an article including interviews with some of the authors.

The letters were, of course, inspired by the current controversy regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.


There is a rebuttal argument, of course. Let’s consider it briefly: Because the church loves its neighbors, and because the victims of illegal police shootings are our neighbors, shouldn’t we do something to help protect them from illegal police violence?

Of course.

Shouldn’t we then do what we can now, rather than waiting the decades it would take to clean up the church’s internal racism?

No. Because the solution is Jesus, and we have no credibility to make that claim until we’ve allowed Jesus to defeat our own racism.

But we can still put social pressure on the police and local government to clean up their messes.

Not really. After all, we have no credibility with this massive log stuck in our eye. And we have no solution that the government isn’t already pursuing. All we can say to the Justice Department is “Atta boy! We agree that this needs to be fixed!” which will assuage our consciences but contribute nothing toward an actual solution.

And that approach risks the worst of all possibilities – the delusion that we’ve really helped and therefore can deal with racism by telling non-Christians to please stop being racists – while not preaching Jesus and continuing our internal racist practices.

No, the authors of the open letters are entirely right to point out the racism that remains within the churches. Fixing that, though, is not a step toward a solution or part of the solution. Jesus is the solution, and our job is to become credible to preach his gospel to those who desperately need it.

But can’t we preach the gospel today? Can’t we talk about Jesus in the public square?

Of course, but those who’ve not submitted to Jesus are under no obligation to obey Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to re-order the world. He came to establish the Kingdom and to invite the world into the Kingdom. And those in the Kingdom are not allowed to be racists.

Those outside the Kingdom are subject to a very different set of rules.

(Rom. 1:28-2:1 ESV)  28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,  30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,  31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  

Paul describes those who do not acknowledge God as given by God over to dissolute lives, including murder (v. 29). This is what happens to those who deny God. The solution to murder, therefore, is to acknowledge God (which includes Jesus as Messiah, of course).

Therefore, we have nothing to offer the world when it comes to ethical living besides submission to God and Jesus. We don’t have a better system. A better morality. A better set of rules. We have a better God. A better Savior. A transforming Spirit. And a better society — except we’re doing a very poor job of building our faith communities on Jesus and everyone knows it.

Remember that one of the major themes of the Bible is that we cannot circumcise our own hearts (Deu 10:16) and so must have God change our hearts for us (Deu 30:6, and many other verses we’ve covered a great many times).

So what should we do?

  1. We really need to clean our own houses. Yes, black lives matter to us — so much so that we can’t imagine continuing to segregate black and white in God’s church. It’s wrong. Immoral. Sinful. And it deeply undermines the witness of the Kingdom. We have to change, and we have to change soon. There’s no room for delay.
  2. We need to preach Jesus to the lost. To the police. To the rioters. To the politicians. To the victims of police overreach. To the criminals. To those who’ve lost family and friends. To those wrongly accused. To the media. To the rabble rousers. To the entire world. I mean, isn’t it obvious that we are seeing the fruit of rejecting God? Aren’t the dreadful things we see on TV and read about in the news obviously exactly the sorts of things that Paul describes in Rom 1? Then why would we attempt a solution other than the gospel?
  3. I might add that most of the police who are guilty of racist practices and most of the black rioters and assassins are only a few generations removed from Christianity. If their parents didn’t go to church, their grandparents did. Therefore, it’s not outrageous to see the whole problem in terms of the church’s failure to be the church God calls us to be. But doing church as we’ve always done church would seem guaranteed to lead to contraction of the church, a further erosion of Christian values, and even more societal breakdown. It took years for us to get this messed up, and it’ll take years to clean up the mess — but make no mistake: It’s our mess. We have failed countless families by being nearly indistinguishable from the world in our attitudes to race, wealth, etc. So there’s your problem, and there’s your solution.
  4. We have to resist the temptation to think in worldly terms, to offer worldly solutions in the name of Jesus, and to thereby reduce the gospel of Jesus the Messiah to a civil religion that sanctifies the work of the principalities and powers. We are not them. They are not us. And our job is not to shout “Amen!” as the secular powers offer their impotent secular solutions. No, our job is to demonstrate a better community, a better way of living, because we serve a better King who, through the Spirit, empowers us to live the gospel.

This, by the way, is exactly how the church overcame the Roman Empire. The church didn’t offer its blessing to sanctify the use of Roman power to bring about the Pax Romana (Roman peace). The church didn’t lobby the Roman senate to enact laws that would ensure peace. The church offered a Kingdom in which could be found a better peace.

No, it seems to me that if the church could do something that really makes a difference, it would not be the usual forms of civic engagement at all. It would be something very Jesus-like. (Continued.)

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 Racial Diversity in Church, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to The Church and Race: Objections

  1. John says:

    It is true that “The church didn’t offer its blessing to sanctify the use of Roman power to bring about the Pax Romana (Roman peace). The church didn’t lobby the Roman senate to enact laws that would ensure peace. The church offered a Kingdom in which could be found a better peace.”

    However, the oneness that Jesus brought about described by Paul in Galatians 3:28, 29 included the acceptance of the entire person. Not for the life of me do I see Jesus preaching a spiritual oneness that does not have to be applied in politics or business. And I am completely confident that if Christians had found themselves with a voice in Roman politics, their faith and trust in the oneness of Christ would have totally influenced their decision making.

    Let me close with this. It seems to me that conservatives have no qualms about trying to sway the government, It is only when liberals start do they balk.

  2. Bob Brandon says:

    Institutions that cannot be reformed need to be abandoned, from congregations to entire denominations/fellowships, being little more than religious social clubs.

    Part of the problem with your assessment is that black churches were born out of the institutional racism of their white fellow believers. Asking black churches to surrender their experience and subsume their identity in what is invariably described as a “multi-cultural” congregation – usually controlled ultimately by white leadership – is a typically white-oriented response.

    If the desire is to reconcile with black congregations, then simply do so. Go attend a black congregation, place membership there. But asking them to surrender their experience and community to meet a majority culture’s view of unity and uniformity is rooted in the same flawed experience that gave necessary rise to these congregations in the first place. Otherwise, it’s pandering to self-serving false equivalence.

  3. Dwight says:

    This issue of “race” has been a problem among people for a long time, only it is a subset of pride of life and the constant Biblical answer has always been…love!.
    The Jews hated the Gentiles, because they thought they were better as a people, the Assyrians, Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans hated all non-them for the same.
    Jesus answer was “love your neighbor as yourself” and then greater “love as I have loved”.
    God so loved the world, so how dare you to divide it in terms of love for one people or another.
    People and groups of people aren’t inherently better than other people or groups of people and we are all sinners and under God grace and mercy.

  4. Dwight says:

    Bob, I believe you make a great point. Why should we ask them to join us, when we could join them? And why ask people to give up their culture to just simply adopt another culture?
    Giving up a cultural experience doesn’t equal unity, as there are many who are of the same culture inside the same building who are not unified. This was the problem in I Cor.11.

  5. John F says:

    AS I have commented before: the “church” is to challenge cultures (world-wide) to conform to the the transformative power of the cross of Christ. Denying self, and taking up the cross, includes denying those cultural things that are in conflict with the cross. That does not mean denying one’s culture entirely. Paul willingly chose to honor his culture (taking a vow — paying for ritual cleansing (had nothing to do with sin):

    Acts 21:22-26 “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 “Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. 25 “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.

    And yet, when culture conflicted with the cross: Gal 2:3-6 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.

    Gal 5:12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. NASU

    Paul had little to no patience for those to whom culture trumps cross. And yet, if our expectation that a particular cultural experience that does not contradict the cross (many black churches approaches to worship) be subsumed to OUR desired cultural preferences is to ask what the cross does not ask. I am not suggesting separate but equal; I am suggesting that cultures should be free to be honored when they do not conflict with the cross. I have had “worship experiences in Central America, Taiwan and well as several African countries — all were different. As far as I could tell (language barrier and all), all were Christ conformed in their culture.
    The example of the Apostles implementing Acts 1 orders from Christ should teach us that. We tend to have a view that is JUST US, not JUSTICE. The freedom in Christ to honor a cultural heritage should not be considered a sin.

  6. Dustin says:


    You make a great point about joining a black congregation. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has done so by moving into the community, opening up his home to the homeless, and becoming the Associate Minister at historically black St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church. The Missional Leadership program at Rochester College, led by Mark Love, often visits this community to learn from Wilson-Hartgrove.

  7. Gary says:

    I don’t believe we will ever come to a time in our lifetimes when Christians have eliminated racism in the church. It will always be a process. In the meantime we don’t have the luxury of subordinating doing good in our world until some racial nirvana in the future. We have it on excellent authority that Jesus went about doing good. As his body on the earth at this time we must be doing the same. The dividing of people into those who are God’s people and those who are not as we try to do good is a dangerous concept. Yes some are God’s people now while others are not yet God’s people. But who among us is qualified to know where to draw that line? Who among us can go out into our community and point out who is a child of God and who is not? That determination will be made by the Father at the Judgment. In the meantime we are to be salt and light for all people feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting and helping up the prisoner, caring for the sick and helping the orphans and widows in their affliction. As the church began it was clear who was in Christ and who was not. That is not the case in America in 2016. Many of us grew up in Churches of Christ where we knew we were saved and all others were lost. Let’s not go back to a kinder and gentler and slightly more ecumenical version of our past. By all means let’s fight racism wherever it appears but we cannot put on hold or subordinate doing good in our world and making it a better place. It’s both, not either or.

    On the more specific question of integrating white and black congregations we who are white cannot simply ignore the concerns of people of color over being marginalized and assimilated. When real progress against racism in our society is made those concerns may fade. For now we have to deal with life as it is and not as we might want it to be.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Bob wrote,

    Part of the problem with your assessment is that black churches were born out of the institutional racism of their white fellow believers. Asking black churches to surrender their experience and subsume their identity in what is invariably described as a “multi-cultural” congregation – usually controlled ultimately by white leadership – is a typically white-oriented response.

    If the desire is to reconcile with black congregations, then simply do so. Go attend a black congregation, place membership there. But asking them to surrender their experience and community to meet a majority culture’s view of unity and uniformity is rooted in the same flawed experience that gave necessary rise to these congregations in the first place. Otherwise, it’s pandering to self-serving false equivalence.

    Any argument that ends with a conclusion that is anti-gospel is a false argument. I read the gospel to require unity across racial lines — and not in separate-but-equal congregations. In the very same congregation.

    No logic or history can change that. Nor do blacks and whites face greater race-based bias today than the racial and social class bias of ancient Rome. Remember: they had slaves. Actual, for real slaves in the very same congregations with their masters. Roman social class lines were almost as strict as the Indian caste system. It was next to impossible to change social classes — and you were born into your class.

    Citizens were treated very differently than non-citizens. Jews hated Gentiles — and hated Samaritans more. Gentiles were “dogs” and unclean — and no proper Jew could eat a meal with a Gentile — much less a holy meal such as the Lord’s Supper.

    The racism and classism was centuries old by the time of Jesus and the apostles. And God somehow expected everyone to be in the same congregation. Period. There was no transition period other than a few years before the gospel was revealed to the Gentiles. Once Cornelius was converted and Paul began his first missionary journey, God expected Jews and Gentiles to find a way to be part of a single congregation under a united eldership — regardless of race, ethnicity, or class. So even slaves shared a table with their masters, and Jews and Gentiles ate holy food as one. Even Samaritans were welcomed to the Lord’s Table.

    And they weren’t worried about who got to chair the Ladies Bible Class. They met in homes. Jews had Gentile guests over for church in their personal residence every week. And vice versa. It was unheard of. Many refused conversion because they’d lose their place in the synagogue or Greek society by becoming a Christian.

    In some towns, the Jews had to give up their place of honor in the synagogue — in an honor culture in which honor was everything. And Gentiles gave up their places of honor at the symposia and banquets of Greek society — to eat with slaves.

    The new honor — honor bestowed by the God of the Jews — was the honor of being known by God and being part of a single, unified community that was better — different, foreign, dangerous, scandalous, shameful in the eyes of the lost world, and incomprehensible to the philosophers and rabbis. And so everyone gave up worldly honor to dare to live a different kind of life in honor of a different kind of God.

    The church in Rome makes for a helpful study. It was likely founded by Jews, but it was soon a congregation of Jews and Gentiles, with the Jews being the members with the most tenure and the local experts in the Scriptures. Then Claudius ordered all Jews to leave Rome. This left the Roman church as entirely Gentile for several years — and the Gentiles became the elders and the teachers. And then the law changed and Jews were allowed back in Rome. This led to the epistle to the Romans — which is about the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in the church. Why? Because they had to work out how to eat together and what feast days to honor together and who got to be leaders. The Gentiles had matured and no longer needed the Jews to explain Isaiah. So who got to teach?

    Hence, Paul spends Rom 1 – 11 on the theology of Jews and Gentiles in the same church, through the lenses of salvation, baptism, the Spirit, atonement, etc. But it’s all to make the point that the Gentiles need to respect the Jews’ place in the Kingdom.

    So who leads and who teaches?

    (Rom. 12:6-8 ESV) 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

    Well, such things are not determined by race or class or tenure. They are determined by God’s choice — through the gifting of the Spirit. If God gifts you to teach, you teach — regardless of class, race, tenure, etc.

    So I see no quota systems or “separate but equal” efforts. Rather,

    (Rom. 12:9-21 ESV) 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

    Read that in light of the social situation. Suddenly, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” takes on new meaning. “Do what is honorable in the sight of all” takes on new meaning. “Seek to show hospitality” is very needed advice for a congregation that met in homes. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” is exactly how you unite across racial, social, and ethnic lines.

    And this leads us to Rom 14 and Paul’s wisdom on getting along despite disagreements.

    This is how white and black churches can merge. I know of no other model.

    We can’t assume that white Christians will unfairly treat blacks in the minority. I’ve been involved in and have observed many mergers (including mergers across racial lines), and the majority routinely go out of their way to make the members of the smaller church feel welcome, to preserve important elements of their former separate congregation, and to assure them a fair share of input in the decision making. Church mergers are delicate processes but far from impossible. There have been many, and most have gone very well. Why assume that the smaller church gets treated shabbily? I mean, if we’re going to be jerks about the merger, I agree we shouldn’t do it, but why assume the worst in fellow Christians? The fact that a predominantly white church is willing to merge with a predominantly black church should speak very well of the good will of the white church. I mean, what’s their motivation except to honor God? By what right do we presume to judge them unable to work out the difficulties inherent in any merger of churches?

    So I’m not persuaded that the racial prejudice of the past somehow justifies separate but equal churches today. Rather, the racial prejudice of the past should make us run away from segregation — having now seen it for the evil that it is.

    Will it be hard? Yes, but every merger is hard. Doing church is hard all by itself. But these are not insuperable challenges. There have already been mergers of Churches of Christ across racial lines that have gone well. So it can be done.

    Think about it. Churches of Christ having similar doctrinal views are fairly monochromatic in their behaviors. My experience with black Churches of Christ is that they aren’t that much different from white Churches of Christ with similar theologies. Yes, there are differences, but not nearly as big as the difference between a conservative church and a progressive church. Our Five Acts theology just doesn’t allow for much variation.

    On the other hand, my own church recently participated in a joint service with a black Baptist Church. (They were honoring us for the use of our building after the tornado.) And there were some very significant differences. Liturgical dance. Incredible instrumental musicianship. Two offerings (never found out why). Powerful, passionate preaching. And unbridled joy in worship. It was a great experience — and many of our members asked whether we could do this routinely. The whites largely enjoyed and celebrated the differences.

    So I don’t buy the stereotype that the mean whites will suffocate the unique and valued elements founds in the black congregation. That’s not how the Christians I know act. In fact, I find that whites often find the black style of preaching and worship very attractive.

    And anyone with a lick of common sense and little love can sort out who get to be the deacons and Bible class teachers in a way that’s fair to all.

  9. Larry Cheek says:

    But the real problem that we are developing is that the whole church in the world cannot possibly meet as one assembly. This is physically impossible. So considering that impossibility, must we place a size limit on any assembly to be an acceptable assembly? Jesus did he said that his Kingdom is not a physical Kingdom of this World and that when two or more are assembled in His name he will be with them. This allows the Church or Kingdom to fully acceptable to him regardless of physical hindrances. Somebody needs to explain how Christ will reject either one of multiple assemblies within a city because their lack of uniting . Or how the complete assembly [all the believers within the assembly] will receive the same condemnation for the lack of uniting into a single assembly. These actions are not even remotely associated with Christ’s teachings.

  10. John F says:

    Following up on Larry’s thoughts: does not the congregation with multiple services or contemporary / traditional service choices fall into a similar condemnation — or is it only the failure to unite based on race perceived to be a sin? May we “pick and choose” on what basis to unite? Though provoking questions indeed.

  11. John F says:

    jay: “I read the gospel to require unity across racial lines — and not in separate-but-equal congregations. In the very same congregation.” Is there no room for different cultural expressions that while different, still comport with NT doctrine? Or must every congregation find that “common cultural expression” which all can accept (and in all likelihood no one is “happy” with in a spiritual (or emotional) sense)? If that is true, must every congregation (in view of Romans 14) with “style choices” in separate services “slog it out” until everyone is on the “same page”? I see the lid on the can of worms coming off….

  12. Larry Cheek says:

    I see this statement as being out of context with the directives of Christ about teaching the lost or those who are in any proximity with any Christian. “And anyone with a lick of common sense and little love can sort out who get to be the deacons and Bible class teachers in a way that’s fair to all.” These elements are tied to a physical location and body of assembled Christians/persons, Deacons and Bible teachers should not be limited to the assemblies. Where did Phoebe do the deeds which she was honored, in the assembly? Notice this disciple named Tabitha, were her works within the assembly? The statement seems as if these duties are to be sought by members as a place of honor. Of course than those who are not chosen would be considered as less competent or capable, judged by the choosing.

  13. Jay Guin says:


    You challenge my supposed limitation of the work of teachers and deacons to the assembly, and yet I said no such thing. It is a fact that when two churches merge, someone has to decide what to do with those in both churches who have leadership positions. You don’t need two heads of the nursery program, two people in charge of cutting the grass, or two people posting books.

    Often the smaller church fears that their leaders will be shunted aside by the new, merged church but, in fact, few churches have excess volunteers. Most are routinely short of volunteers, and so with a little common sense and with grace extended by each church to the other, the churches are usually able to sort out who will be in charge of what on terms that are acceptable to both churches. It is very common for both churches to have programs and ministries that they’re rightfully proud of and wish to see continued. And, generally, these desires are easily met. I mean, who wants to kill a God-glorifying ministry just because of a merger?

    The hardest position to deal with is normally the pulpit. Some churches retain both preachers and have them alternate. I know of cases where both preachers resigned to avoid the problem — which has always impressed me as very Christ-like. They so believed in the good of the merger that they both, in faith, gave up their jobs. Sometimes one preacher is re-assigned to counseling, spiritual formation, or other duties — typically by his own choice. Rarely is either preacher fired, because the church that loses its preacher would feel disenfranchised and because his congregation loves him and doesn’t want him left jobless.

    My point is that some here write as though a black/white church merger means the blacks will necessarily be disenfranchised and their congregation’s ministries and heritage will be lost because they make up fewer than half the members of the new church. My response is that this fear is unfounded because (a) in my experience, that’s just not how Christians act in real mergers, and (b) no one is holding a gun to the black congregation’s head. If they don’t like the terms of the merger, they won’t merge. And I’m not willing to assume that the leadership of the black congregation is unable to properly shepherd their congregation through the merger process.

    Issues also arise regarding elders — and most merged churches agree that the elders of both churches become elders of the new church. Some men use this as an opportunity to retire. And many a merged eldership has agreed that everyone resigns in a year and the new, merged church ordains new elders as a new congregation. Routinely, the same guys are ordained, in my experience.

    Deacons are handled in many ways by many churches, and so merging the diaconates can be more difficult. There will be redundancies, but there will also be unmet needs. The merged church will be able to institute more programs than the two churches ran separately. There are very real economies of scale realized in a merger — meaning the need for deacons will be GREATER because of the merger.

    Does this mean that a deacon over the children’s department might lose his position? Yes, but there will be other positions come open for which he is likely a better match. Bigger churches can generally better match talent to task. Hence, regardless of what someone may fear, I’ve never seen a church merger prevented or even slowed by the need to re-organize the deacons. And most churches regularly re-assign deacons as the church’s needs change. So the deacons generally don’t derail a merger.

    Just so, most churches need MORE teachers, not fewer, and so teachers don’t lose their opportunity to serve just because of a merger.

    And none of this has anything to do with whether a position ought be desired or not. It’s just the way things are in a merger. Churches need structure and leadership, and so any merger will require assigning men and women to fill needs in the church. Some people will be re-assigned. But churches generally are able to make certain that the key ministries of both churches are preserved and honored. The separate heritages of the two churches will be blended but also honored if the leadership is wise. And none of this is all that hard.

    What’s hard is getting the churches to be willing to merge. It’s against our highly individualized, autonomous natures. And we fear the unknown. But if you talk to members who’ve been through a church merger, in nearly every case, they are very glad they merged. Bigger churches create opportunities that smaller churches cannot — because of economies of scale. People and money are freed to do MORE good works. For example, you only have to pay one youth minister — and the difference can go to missions or a better youth program or community outreach. Or you may wind up with such a large youth ministry that you need to keep both youth ministers, and one takes middle school and the other takes high school — improving the quality of the ministry for all the teens. Either way, the Kingdom is blessed by the merger.

  14. Jay Guin says:

    John F wrote,

    Or must every congregation find that “common cultural expression” which all can accept (and in all likelihood no one is “happy” with in a spiritual (or emotional) sense)? If that is true, must every congregation (in view of Romans 14) with “style choices” in separate services “slog it out” until everyone is on the “same page”?

    1. My argument for merger of black and white churches is theological and deeply rooted in the gospel. I’m still working through the comments, but so far I’ve seen no one even attempt a biblical argument to the contrary.

    2. Whatever cultural issues two churches would face today in merging would pale in comparison to the cultural differences in apostolic times. And yet the early church never, ever divided over racial or ethnic lines. Indeed, in 1 Cor, Paul at least twice argues that the congregation must operate with sensitivities to Jewish culture sensibilities (1 Cor 11:13-16; 14:36-37).

    3. What cultural differences? Seriously. We are talking about black and white Churches of Christ. And our Five Acts theology has left the white and black churches very similar in their worship practices. The point’s been made in the comments that black churches are more inclined to allow members to “Amen” the preacher during the sermon. My own church has had black members who wanted to “Amen” the preacher. And we happily allowed them to do so. A few white members joined in. The preacher declared that he liked the practice.

    But I’m old enough to remember attending white churches where “Amens” from the membership was practiced. It’s really more of a Southern thing than a black thing. It’s just that the whites abandoned the practice. I don’t know why. But I’ve never heard a biblical argument against it — and in the church where I grew up in very conservative North Alabama, “Amens” were allowed in an all-white congregation. This is just not a big deal. I’d say we should allow Amens, except I know of no church that bans Amens.

    There is also a practice among black churches in which the preacher improvises a melody as he preaches or reads scripture. I find the practice just wonderful. I really enjoy it. (And hope I am never, ever asked to do the same thing). So we let black preachers continue to preach as they want to preach. Why not? My experience is that most white people react as I do: they love it. They love the passion in the pulpit. And I know we’ll have some white members who take offense at this — but the gospel says merge, and that’s a small price to pay to honor the gospel. This will not be the thing that kills a merger.

    What am I missing? There is a doctrinal issue.

    There are far more progressive white churches than black churches. This is changing, but I’m pretty sure it’s still largely true. And doctrinal disagreements can kill any merger. We can’t ask members to merge against their consciences. But there’s no lack of white conservative churches to merge with.

    And I can see great good coming from joint Bible studies among the elders and preachers of white and black churches in town.

  15. Gary says:

    Jay, I think any of us would applaud in principle a white congregation and a black congregation merging. But where are the black congregations that want to merge with predominantly white congregations? Without them isn’t this a theoretical issue? It seems that all this comes down to a conclusion that (usually) smaller and less affluent African American congregations should want to merge with (usually) larger and more affluent white congregations. I don’t think many African American congregations will see it that way.

    On a practical level I see two problems. How can the difference over the role and authority of the minister be resolved? Maybe you’ve covered that and I missed it. Second, everything I’ve ever read about church mergers concludes that the newly merged church drops in size within a few years to about the size of the larger of the two churches that merged. Enough members go their own way to other congregations or simply drop out of church that the merged church no longer can account numerically for what was the combined membership at the time of the merger. If that’s the case what’s the point?

  16. John F says:

    So how is stressing unity along racial lines (a doctrinal issue, a gospel issue) significantly different than stressing unity along other doctrinal lines? And yes, I would strenuously object to any congregation that practiced such, and if no repentance soon shown, choose to worship elsewhere. How are divided assemblies (“progressive” [though I dislike the term as you have opined occasionally]) and “conservative” (same objection to labels) any less sinful than along racial lines? You posit that we should have only one assembly, but in practice endorse two (or more) to allow “conscience” or “freedom” adequate expression. Strange dichotomy, but this comes from a trichotomist !

  17. Alabama John says:

    The gap between whites and blacks keeps deepening as we see on the news every night.
    Can you picture those blacks in Charlotte, NC merging? Can you expect the whites there wanting them to?
    Lots of changes must be made before unity can exist and it will take a big shakeup and a very strong leader to bring these changes about.

  18. Jay Guin says:

    Gary (Part 1),

    The readers comments have routinely assumed a larger white church and smaller black church as representing the problematic (and likely typical) case. Obviously, there could be a larger or equally sized black church and smaller or equally sized white church. The assumed problem is that the larger church will swallow up the cultural distinctiveness of the smaller church.

    My view is that churches shouldn’t ever be white or black in a racially mixed community. I find the idea of a white church or a black church in a racially mixed community to be sinful — falling far short of the gospel to which we’ve all been called.

    Now, I can’t make anyone want anything. I can only express what I believe the Bible to teach — and I think the abhorrence of racial segregation within the Christian community is very, very plain on the face of the scriptures. Therefore, I believe all races should desperately want to end racial separation and segregation wherever it may be found.

    It is not about power. It’s about racial unity. Therefore, black churches should invite white churches to merge and white church should invite black churches to merge. It’s not about whites imposing their wills on blacks. It’s about whites and blacks submitting to God.

    I’ve seen it argued that in black churches, the elders are often appointed by the minister. I know that to be true in some cases. I’m not sure it’s universally so or even nearly so. In this part of the country, my experience is that black churches are generally elder led. So I suspect that the issue varies geographically.

    Again, no one should ever argue that someone should act contrary to his conscience. Churches of Christ will often be unable to merge because of doctrinal differences — and this is largely over the question of grace. Legalism will interfere with mergers for the same reason legalism drives church splits. Two progressive churches that want to merge and yet have differing views on elder ordination will find a way to make it happen. Two conservative churches with differing views will likely find merger impossible. It’s not just motivation. Gracious churches have gracious leaders and gracious members — and they can usually work through these things. (And it’s not my place to tell them how to do it.)

    But it’s not my experience that black and white churches exist separately for doctrinal reasons. The reason for the separation is racial. Discrimination. And doctrine may well prevent healing of the racial divisions, but this is because so many Churches of Christ, white and black, are so eaten up with legalism that they can’t compromise or change.

  19. Jay Guin says:

    Gary (Part 2),

    The studies concluding that mergers don’t result in larger churches are from some decades ago (to my knowledge). I’m not aware of any recent studies that say this is still true. I suspect it’s not.

    First, there have been studies to determine why merged churches soon contract to the size of the pre-merger larger church. It’s the same problem that prevents most churches from growing much beyond 200 members: We don’t know how to lead large churches. Church growth experts routinely speak of the 200-member barrier, and this is in nearly all denominations. It’s not just a CoC thing.

    If you try to run a 400-member church like a 200-member church, people will get lost, will feel disconnected, and a host of other problems will arise. The solution is better training of preachers and elders on how to manage growth — and there have been countless books published on this question in recent years. What works and what doesn’t work is well known. But we desperately need to do a better job of training our leaders.

    Some lessons:

    1. To get over 200 members, a church needs to institute small groups, because no one can know everyone in a 400-member church. The shepherds and staff can’t pastor that many people alone. Small groups creates a pastoral structure that helps new members connect, make friends, and be incorporated into the life of the church.

    2. The Sunday night service has to be killed. If you attempt to add small groups on top of the three weekly services, you overwhelm your members.

    3. Elders need to be assigned to particular members for pastoral care — with small groups being the natural means. Every member needs to know who his elder is and see his elder in his small group every month or two.

    4. Worship needs to be better. A well-rehearsed praise team, with competent sound engineering, can make a dramatic difference. A larger church means higher expectations by the members. Get used to it and improve the quality of the singing consistent with your theology. A praise team of 8 does wonders. (And sing at the specified speed. No dirge-like song leading. Get your leaders whatever training they need.)

    5. Rotate teachers. Don’t let beloved Br. Smith have the same class for 20 years. Classes that never change teachers become disconnected from the church as a whole and often never hear lessons that they really need to hear. No one is such a good teacher that the church will be adequately fed by just one man. Rotate! By rotating teachers, new members feel more at home and the church more easily remains united despite its larger size.

    6. Honor the heritages of both congregations – for years. Honor the anniversaries of the founding of both congregations. Keep key ministries alive from both churches. But encourage members from each merging church to participate in ministries inherited from the old congregations. Don’t let the ministries be means of division. Rather, they should honor the histories and heritages of both churches while also honoring the decision to merge. This is who we were (and we’re proud of the past God gave us) but this is the church we are now (and we’re excited about what God has in store for us).

    7. Put the deacons to work. No at large deacons.

    8. New members need to be placed in a Bible class, a small group, and involved in ministry. They should have a time to meet the elders in person. Involvement should be highly intentional and pro-active.

    9. Communicate like crazy. Over-communicate. Use email and text messaging. Don’t have 20 minutes of announcements. No one should have to wait on Sunday to learn about a death or a birth or a baptism. Use technology.

    10. Read the blogs of Thom Rainer, Ed Stetzer, Carey Nieuwhof, etc. They all have materials on crossing the 200-member barrier. Talk to the leaders of other churches that have already done this successfully.

    11. Leave your legalism behind. Legalism nearly guarantees that a church will split before it can grow much beyond 200.

    Stuff like that. If you just have a one-man song leader leading at 30 beats a minute, three weekly services, and otherwise try to do church like a 100-member church from 1963, you’ll soon be a 100-member church. Keep up with the literature and study church growth methods, you might just find that the merger launches an era of unprecedented growth. I’ve seen it happen more than once.

  20. Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    I did no author the legalism that so consumes the Churches of Christ. I find it an abomination, a false gospel, and have labored far more than most to defeat it. And yet it lives.

    If you wish to discuss a merger between a progressive and a conservative church, the answer is (a) yes, of course they should merge if they have the same geographic footprint and (b) it cannot happen unless the legalistic church gives up its legalism.

    My experience is that churches do not surrender their legalism just to merge — even if the merger is a matter of survival. And regardless of what I think is right, they will do what they want to do — which is: act like legalists.

    So should the legalists merge with progressives, with a resulting larger, progressive congregation? Of course. Will I spend much time talking about it? No. I will instead attack the legalism with all my might — and then the merger becomes simplicity.

  21. Jay Guin says:

    Alabama John,

    Imagine that the largest congregation of Christians in Charlotte announces that it was born in racism as a predominately white church. Imagine that it confesses the sin of institutional racism because the leaders have done next to nothing to change its racial character, to reach out to black and Hispanic Christians. Imagine that the leaders repent of the homogeneous unit principle and announce that they desperately wish to be a church of a third race — Christians — united in Christ by grace and a deep, sacrificial love. Imagine that they ask for the forgiveness of non-white Christians and of the community as a whole for setting such a poor example. Imagine that they then seek ways to work with black and Hispanic churches in town, to share resources, to minister together, and to look for ways to erase racial barriers — with merger being on the agenda but not first on the agenda. Working together to serve the poor and to reach the lost among the poorest in town comes first.

    Imagine that this huge multi-site church begins to plant churches in the most impoverished parts of town and they use their money and talents to make those parts of town better places — that they truly serve the poor at considerable risk and expense to themselves. Multi-site churches tend to prefer locations in rapidly growing white, affluent areas of town — which is questionable application of the gospel, if you ask me. Suppose they instead sought out the poorest parts of town?

    Imagine that they work hard at community formation within the church, so that blacks and whites feel equally welcome.

    Now imagine that a black man is shot by the police for no good reason. The elders and preacher visit the grieving family to offer comfort and consolation. They pay for the funeral. They stay out of the papers. They just show up and help without judgment. And they have no agenda other than to serve others out of love.

    If the family has connections with another church, the large church makes no effort to profit off the sufferings of others. They just pay for the funeral and help as they can, asking the pastor of the family’s church to let them serve without publicity.

    Now, if this were to happen, what would be the relationship of the black and white churches in town? If rather than reflexively taking the white or Republican or government side, and if the church instead saw the suffering as suffering that needs God’s own comfort, how would that change things? I mean, why take sides at all? Even if the black man was legally shot, his widow and family are still grieving and in need of comfort and support. They still can’t afford the funeral. And they don’t deserve what happened to them.

    So, yes, it would be difficult — but not nearly as hard as we imagine. We just have to stop thinking like Chic-Fil-A franchises, looking for upper middle class market shares, and instead feel drawn to where Jesus is most needed.

  22. John F says:

    Jay, you may respond as you wish, but “conservative” may not be equated with “legalistic.” May be the same at times, but you use too broad a brush in such a comparison. A “conservative” congregation may not share your “progressive” views and still be wedded to a very high view of the inspiration of scripture, a deep understanding of grace and the Holy Spirit, all while seeing the desirability of following apostolic practice and precedent. The apostles were given orders by Christ concerning the kingdom. (Acts 1:1-31 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.NASU) They knew much better than we how to “do” church and how to “be” church. They were inspired, and we fail to heed at some peril.

    The original question still stands: How are divided assemblies (“progressive” [though I dislike the term as you have opined occasionally]) and “conservative” (same objection to labels) any less sinful than along racial lines? You posit that we should have only one assembly, but in practice endorse two (or more) to allow “conscience” or “freedom” adequate expression.

  23. Alabama John says:

    You have nothing but good intentions and I gree with you on us doing good things for the blacks.

    What I would expect if we, the middle and upper class whites did for the blacks as you just described would happen is what has happened over the years with our government doing those same things. Welfare, free everything, etc.

    The blacks wouldn’t join us equally, but become more dependent and expect more of the same.

    Sometimes instead of becoming friends is not the way to create equality but a good kick in the butt is.

  24. Larry Cheek says:

    I surely did challenge your concept of churches merging for the purpose of uniting into one body. The result would be a restricting of the number of leaders, servants and Bible teachers. What you are proposing has already been done in history and we can see the results. What it produced was not something that Christ was reigning in; it became totally controlled by men. Men created rules and regulations far beyond any instructions in Scripture. It also has controlled governments, fought wars, killed many Christians, and attempted to totally control mankind. You probably will state that, I have blown this totally out of proportion, but the core of your model is a reproduction of The Universal Church. I believe that the driving force behind your concept is that you are totally convinced that Christ’s Kingdom is or will be physical here on earth and you see you model working to this goal.
    Jesus told in no uncertain terms that he was not of this world and his Kingdom is not of this world.
    Joh 8:23-24 ESV He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. (24) I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

    Joh 18:36-37 ESV Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (37) Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

    The truth is that he is a King of a Kingdom, presently reigning and we Christians are the members of this Kingdom now. We will never die! How is that true? Notice, what he told Martha.
    Joh 11:23-28 ESV Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” (24) Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (25) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (26) and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (27) She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
    Notice this phrase, “though he die, yet shall he live”, at first impression the resurrection is between die and live, but that is modified by Jesus own words. He said, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” there is nothing about death here.
    Can I prove that? When an individual is born of the Spirit, he becomes a spirit which will never die; we who have been born of the Spirit have already obtained eternal life.
    Joh 3:5-8 ESV Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (6) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (7) Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (8) The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
    Paul said, in explaining the difference between our lives prior to the spirit and after the born again of the Spirit. He says that our mortal bodies are alive through his Spirit. His Spirit is life not death.
    Rom 8:9-11 ESV You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (10) But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (11) If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
    Jesus gave instructions pertaining to those who have died and their bodies are in the grave (have not been resurrected). How is this possible? Their spirits never die because God’s Spirit is with them. How are we different?
    Mat 22:31-32 ESV And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: (32) ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
    Mar 12:26-27 ESV And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? (27) He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
    Luk 20:37-38 ESV But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. (38) Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”

    Therefore, I believe that even though our bodies are dead and in a grave our spirits are still alive, God is our God because we are not dead. Our spirits are in the same place that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob spirits are and we are alive while our bodies are in graves.

    So how does this affect our view of the one body? Since there is only one body of Christ’s followers (one church, one Kingdom) can I exclude Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from this body because they are not physically alive? No. We are all, in the one body not only as we live but all of the dead who have served God throughout history God chooses who have been added to the (church, Kingdom, the saved) as spoken of in Acts.
    (Act 2:47 ESV) praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
    I know that different translations deal with this verse differently but the fact remains that these were being saved and that there is not two bodies or groups of the saved there is only one body of the saved. It is the Kingdom of Christ.

    Rom 12:4-8 ESV For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, (5) so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (6) Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; (7) if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; (8) the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

    1Co 10:16-17 ESV The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (17) Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
    1Co 12:11-14 ESV All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (12) For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (14) For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

    1Co 12:18-20 ESV But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (19) If all were a single member, where would the body be? (20) As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

    Eph 2:14-16 ESV For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (15) by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, (16) and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

    Eph 4:4-7 ESV There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (7) But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

    Col 3:14-15 ESV And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (15) And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

    There is not one word expressing that unity of bodies being one body as in assemblies meeting with each other. You are attempting to make an application which is not applied in scripture. In fact if it was an application which had validity we would all need to be reconciled to The Universal Church.

  25. Larry Cheek says:

    I have read your solution for Charlotte in your response to Alabama John. I do not believe that Christ would approve of these actions. Much of my determination of this has been tied to the fact that he has established government, principalities and powers for a reason.
    Col 1:16-17 ESV For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (17) And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
    Notice what a description Peter wrote.
    2Pe 2:9-15 ESV then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, (10) and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, (11) whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. (12) But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, (13) suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. (14) They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! (15) Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing,

    Let’s think about this using the knowledge we have learned from Christianity. We should expect those who are unlawful to go against any rules and regulations which they desire. They do not respect each other or our laws. We see the news media and the protesters attempting to render what they see as justice even before all the facts are reveled. Hindsight is for the most times 20 20 but they care nothing about what is true or factual. Their only agenda is to defeat the administrators of our laws. If they accomplish their goal then Satan has won a battle for ciaos. They act as a lynch mob in reverse. So a criminal gets caught and while being confronted makes a stand rather than submitting to authority and an officer thus takes action based upon his training and experience has become the villain in place of the criminal. How would we expect the rest of the officers to react when they are placed in a similar situation? The safe thing for an officer to do would be to look the other way. Who wins?
    Who do we expect to make up the protesters? Are they law abiding citizens? Do law abiding citizens just naturally support the possible criminal rather than the law enforcers? Are these protesters, God fearing Christians who oppose the legal system which Christ established?
    Now, let us suppose that a church does perform the actions which you have suggested and the news gets out that the individual who was killed was in fact a member of a gang or family of mobsters. Would the church have represented itself as if it was in support of the actions of the protesters, the criminal, the gang or even the mobsters and in opposition to the authorities? The safe thing for the church to do is stay out of this situation until justice has been rendered, then Christian individuals should initiate contact with those that will communicate about their future. Their future is the only thing that matters, the dead criminal or not a criminal’s future cannot be modified.

  26. Dwight says:

    Although bringing all in the area into a common place is a good thought, especially those of different races, but the opposite is not sinful. I’m sure that all of us are in the situation where we worship in an area where there are groups in a small area and we don’t take the time to know who those groups are. In my own situation, we worship in a building and there is a group that meets next door in the school…and we have no communication between each other. They might be black or they might be Chinese or they might even be white. They might be Pentecostal or Seventh Day Adventist or who knows or nothing in particular.
    Now the strange part…we might actually be worshipping the same God in relatively the same way and they might actually be more non-denominational than what we claim to be.
    I don’t consider it a sin that we don’t know who they are and they don’t know who we are as we are both worshipping God. Now it would be good if we did know each other and communicated, but is it a sin…no.
    What is important is that we haven’t made it a point to call them sinful and tell people to not go there.
    Division is more of a state of mind than being separate, but division can lead to separateness, but being separate doesn’t always mean divided. As noted when Paul confronted Peter the Jews were divided from the Gentiles and thus separate, but in the case of Paul and Barnabas and their contention, they were separate in that they went two different ways, but they were not divided in Christ.
    In the case of the early churches where they congregated in their many homes, they were separate, but not divided.

    Now in our area if there is a black coC I do not know of it, but we do have some blacks that come to our congregation, as well as Hispanics, thus we are multi-racial and multi-cultural, but not because we have promoted this, but because they, like many of the white people that now come to our congregation, found us and liked what they say and stayed.
    An interesting thing is that our first black people were really inter-racial (he was black and she was white) and as time goes on as we get more black people others are visiting and staying. but we are still 96% white.
    The demographics of the area is fairly well represented in our area, but you move ten miles away and the demographics change and sometimes dramatically.
    And yet many of our members drive from more than ten miles away.
    The thing is people go where they want to go for reasons that they think are important and many of them have little to do with race, but comfort in the environment and the people and oh, yes, the doctrine.

  27. John F says:

    Jay, you may respond as you wish, but “conservative” may not be equated with “legalistic.” May be the same at times, but you use too broad a brush in such a comparison. A “conservative” congregation may not share your “progressive” views and still be wedded to a very high view of the inspiration of scripture, a deep understanding of grace and the Holy Spirit, all while seeing the desirability of following apostolic practice and precedent. The apostles were given orders by Christ concerning the kingdom. (Acts 1:1-31 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.NASU) They knew much better than we how to “do” church and how to “be” church. They were inspired, and we fail to heed at some peril.

    The original question still stands: How are divided assemblies (“progressive” [though I dislike the term as you have opined occasionally]) and “conservative” (same objection to labels) any less sinful than along racial lines? You posit that we should have only one assembly, but in practice endorse two (or more) to allow “conscience” or “freedom” adequate expression.

    A great video on “race” differences. (Are we allowed to recommend?)

  28. Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    I’ve explained my use of “conservative” and “progressive” here several times — and in my usage, “conservative” is a euphemism for legalistic. The legalistics resent the use of the term, and so I use a more generous, kinder term — although one that is less exact.

    Just so, I’m no “liberal” by any conventional meaning of the term, but the legalists insist on calling us progressive types “liberals.” I find “progressive” more exact and less uneducated — but not nearly as precise as I would prefer.

    I’ve repeatedly asked for suggestions as to better words to use, and the usually response is either silence or a complaint about “labels.” And yet we really can’t discuss these things without a vocabulary. It’s not like legalism goes away just because I stop using the word “legalist.” But the conversations are generally more pleasant and gentle if we speak of “conservatives” and “progressives” rather than terms that the other side rejects and finds insulting.

  29. Jay Guin says:

    John F (Part 3),

    Legalism (conservatism) is sinful — and in a particularly pernicious way. A progressive church cannot unite with a legalistic church because (a) the conservative church will refuse and (b) the conservative church teaches a false gospel.

    If the church doesn’t teach a false gospel, then it’s progressive – and merger becomes entirely possible.

    Now, churches in the same community are separate congregations for any number of reasons. Some reasons are better than others.

    Division over race is, in my view, per se sinful because it contradicts the gospel. The fact that we see it as acceptable for social reasons (the homogeneous unit principle; the blacks prefer to have their own church) does not speak well of our grasp of the gospel. I mean, it’s not just about getting people into a club called “church.” It has to be the right kind of community — and racial division is forbidden.

    We live in a society that is trying to rid itself of racism. The church is catching up. And the thought of merger of black and white churches seems strange and foreign but not anti-Christian.

    Just so, progressive and conservative division is also sinful — because the conservative (legalistic) view of the gospel is anti-gospel. Again, the fact that we see this as natural and acceptable shows how poorly we grasp the gospel. When we damn people over instrumental music or the construction of a fellowship hall, we’ve so distorted the gospel as to make Jesus nearly unrecognizable.

    For a conservative church to want to merge with a progressive church, well, they’ve been lied to and told that this would be sin — not merely uncomfortable, as in the case of racial division. They believe they’ll lose their souls if they merge. The racially divided church has no such fears. They may not be motivated, but their lack of motivation isn’t over fear of damnation — it’ll be based on fear of change.

    So how do you persuade a conservative church to give up their legalism and not consider the progressives damned? What would motivate such a merger? Not their understanding of the gospel. Their gospel tells them that merging with the progressives would be damnable sin.

    Now, should I tell progressives to give up their understanding of grace and become legalists in order to merger with conservative churches? Obviously, not. Rather, I should urge legalistic churches to give up their legalism — which I do more than most. Then we can talk about merger — but not until then.

    Racially divided churches don’t have to undergo a doctrinal change to merge. They just have to decide that they want to merge. It’s a very different set of barriers and challenges.

  30. Dwight says:

    Jay, it is my understanding that Jesus was largely a legalist in that he went by the letter if the law, because it had within it the spirit of the law. It was from God. When the Pharisees extended the law of washing, Jesus reigned them back in to the exact law. Now it could be argued that the woman caught in adultery should have been stoned according to the law, but this would have required witnesses who accused and stayed around to condemn and stone, which didn’t happen.
    I can’t think of one place where Jesus broke the law or encouraged others to do so. In fact in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
    Jesus went to all of the feast, observed the Passover, etc.
    The Jewish law was in effect until Jesus died.
    It was those who extended their tradition as a law that was condemned and admittedly this what many conservatives actually do as they try to press the conservative agenda. If they truly understood the law it would require them to be less damning and judgmental.
    But Jesus was neither conservative or liberal, he was both. He kept the law and gave liberally.

  31. John F. says:

    The core question still remains from my earlier posting: How are divided assemblies any less sinful than along racial lines? You posit that we should have only one assembly, but in practice endorse two (or more) to allow “conscience” or “freedom” adequate expression.

    Your apparent position (correct if not understood clearly) is that a failure to merge based on race is sinful, but separate assemblies (failure to merge into one ) based on “worship practices” (for lack of a better term) is not. The one who does not accept your position is “legalistic” (which I would say is not a necessary conclusion). To understand and appreciate and accept grace and the indwelling of the HS does not negate seeing the value and wisdom of Apostolic example and practice that transcends culture. Either God’s revelation transcends and informs every culture for every time or it is sadly deficient.

  32. John F. says:

    The following I think would summarize Jay’s thoughts:

  33. John F. says:

    Sorry, you will to scroll down to a July 13 presentation (about 6 minutes) — it has had some 15,000 views.

  34. Jay Guin says:


    “Legalist” in the context of Christian theology does not mean “follows the law of God.” I posted a thoughtful, conventional definition from John Piper two weeks ago: /2016/09/church-refugees-conversation-part-2//2016/09/church-refugees-conversation-part-2/ See also

    When I use the term, I’m speaking in the context of the history of the Churches of Christ. What I mean by “legalist” is NOT “obedient”. We should ALL be obedient. Of course. Obviously. But our salvation is through faith in Jesus, by the grace of God. When we add a list of mortal sins to faith in Jesus, such as a failure to worship a cappella, as essential to salvation, we become legalists because we seek salvation by our obedience not our faith in Jesus. Those Churches of Christ that damn sister congregations over clapping, instruments, etc. are “legalists” because they’ve elevated obedience to law to the same level as faith in Jesus — making faith in sufficient to save. It’s a form of idolatry (making faith in our opinions as important as faith in Jesus) and a false gospel. It’s not just error. It violates —

    (Gal. 5:2-6 ESV) 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

    The only thing that “counts for anything” when it comes to being justified is “faith working through love.” Add circumcision as a condition, and you’ve been “severed from Christ,” “fallen from grace,” and are “obligated to keep the whole law.” It’s bad stuff – and we should WARN our brothers against such thinking. We shouldn’t attempt to equate legalism with obedience. They are two very different things. One damns. One glorifies God. And the difference is whether you’re obeying to earn your salvation or obeying because the Spirit has transformed your heart to love God.

    (Eph. 2:8-10 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

    Have I ever urged someone to sin? Have I encouraged others to do so?

    “Liberal” is used by most conservative Church of Christ commenters, not to mean a liberal giver, but to refer to the school of theology led by such men as Rudolf Bultmann, who sought to demythologize the NT, challenging the reality of miracles, the resurrection, etc. There are no liberals in the Churches of Christ to my knowledge. I’ve never met one. Therefore, I refuse to accept the label “liberal.”

    “Liberal” does NOT mean “looses where I do not loose” nor does “legalist” mean “binds where I do not bind,” as the terms are commonly used by conservatives in the Churches of Christ — very unhelpfully. “Legalist” instead refers to those who seek salvation by law. Even Jesus didn’t do that. He obeyed the Law — but not to gain salvation. Paul is very clear in Rom and Gal that the Jews, like Christians, were saved, if at all, by faith. They were saved under the covenant with Abraham that faith would be counted as righteousness. If that’s not so, then no Jew was saved until Jesus came along.

    Jesus was sinless, not to earn heaven (He left heaven to come to earth! Why have to earn it back?) but to be a spotless sacrifice and to learn obedience (Heb 5:8) so that he could teach us obedience through the Spirit. How can God teach us obedience if he’s never obeyed? Hebrews says much more on the subject.

    Now, if you wish to use “conservative” to mean “not liberal in the Bultmann sense” (which is what it means in some Christian circles), fine — but give us your definition before you do. Was Jesus a teacher who disagreed with Bultmann? Of course. In that sense, he was conservative.

    But the legalists among us call themselves “conservatives,” meaning that they stand for the traditional views of the Churches of Christ taught in the 20th Century. And that makes them legalists, by and large. But I try to soften my language because I know they dislike the term “legalist,” although I consider the term both accurate and fair. In exchange, I ask them not to slander me as a “liberal.” I’ll happily answer to “change agent” or “progressive.” But I’m really just trying to be true to the scriptures and my Lord.

  35. Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    1. Those who damn over supposed apostolic practices are legalists. I have no quarrel with anyone who wishes to sing a cappella in the assembly because they believe it to be an apostolic practice (very hard to prove from the NT, but could be true). I sing a cappella most Sundays. I have a very serious disagreement with those who damn over the instrument. They are legalists and they are in violation of Gal 5:1-6 very much to their own jeopardy. They’ve added “circumcision” to “faith working through love” as a requirement of salvation. I see no difference between insisting on circumcision or a cappella singing as a condition of salvation. As a matter of practice, it’s a matter of indifference. As a salvation issue, it’s legalism and a rejection of grace.

    2. Hence a legalistic church is not going to merge with a progressive church because the legalists insist on so very many things as conditions of salvation. The progressives disagree. Therefore, the legalists will not merge with the progressives. And they are sinful in so doing, but my writing articles urging them to merge would be pointless until they repent of their legalism. (And such mergers do happen — but not nearly often enough).

    I am not in any sense okay with there being separate legalistic churches and progressive churches serving the same geographic regions. But the sin is the legalism — which makes merger impossible until the legalists repent. Hence, the progressives have no choice but to meet separately (and the legalists will feel the same way). The division caused by Church of Christ legalism is sinful and sad — and should rebuked at every opportunity.

    Legalism is not okay. It damns. It divides. It destroys. And we’ve all seen the fruit of the poisonous tree — and I will not pretend that it’s covered by grace and should be tolerated. It’s not. See my book: /books-by-jay-guin/do-we-teach-another-gospel/.

    Now, among churches that do not damn over apostolic practices, they usually do not struggle to find a way to meet together and even to merge. It’s a very natural thing for Christians who understand grace to do. But legalists can only merge if they get to set the doctrinal agenda, preach their legalism, and have their way. There is no room for compromise because, to them, so very many things are salvation issues. Hence, they are far, far more likely to divide than to merge (and I think the last 100 years of history amply proves the point).

    3. Disagreeing with me does not make one a legalist — unless he disagrees over whether God damns over such things as instrumental music. I don’t care if you’re instrumental or a cappella, if you make either a salvation issue, you are a legalist because the Bible says,

    (Jn. 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

    I happen to believe that passage to be exactly true. And those who consider faith in Jesus inadequate to save are guilty of the Galatian heresy.

    Does practicing weekly communion or a cappella singing make one a legalist? No. Does insisting that these are essential to one’s salvation make one a legalist? Absolutely.

    Does disagreeing with Jay make someone a legalist? Not necessarily and not normally. But insisting the worship practices engaged in with all good faith, intending to honor and glorify God, damn when they don’t fit the Church of CHrist template, that’s legalism and it risks damnation for violating essentially the entire book of Galatians.

    The whole point of grace is that we can disagree about many things and still be brothers. It’s those who insist on agreement who are the legalists — and I cannot agree with that one thing.

    To quote Alexander Campbell,

    Every such person is a disciple in the fullest sense of the word, the moment he has believed this one fact [that Jesus is the Messiah], upon the above evidence, and has submitted to the above mentioned institution [baptism]; and whether he believes the five points condemned, or the five points approved by the synod of Dort [defining Calvinism], is not so much as to be asked of him; whether he holds any of the views of the Calvinists or Arminians [opponents of Calvinism], Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, or Quakers, is never once to be asked of such persons, in order to admission into the Christian community, called the church. The only doubt that can reasonably arise upon these points, is, whether this one fact [Jesus is the Messiah], in its nature and necessary results, can suffice to the salvation of the soul, and whether the open avowal of it, in the overt act of baptism, can be a sufficient recommendation of the person, so professing, to the confidence and love of the brotherhood.

    Very few Churches of Christ would agree with Campbell, but the progressive congregations would. What I teach is pretty close to what Campbell taught. And we agree that Christians should unite under the banner of faith in Jesus as Messiah. Sadly, there are many among us who would insist on adding several additional banners — a cappella worship, weekly communion, etc. — and refuse to call “brother” those who agree regarding Jesus but disagree regarding worship practices. And they violate the entirety of Galatians in taking such a position — and bring nothing but division and misery to the Christian community in so doing — whether they sing a cappella or with instruments. That doesn’t matter — so long as worship practices aren’t made into our Savior.

    We are not saved by how we worship. We are saved by who we worship.

  36. Mark says:

    Wow. Campbell’s statement sounds like “big tent” Christianity where there is room for everyone, even Calvinists. No wonders it was never mentioned.

  37. dwight says:

    Actually Jay I know of at least one who used the term legalist in the sense of “follow the law of God” and I actually try to think in that sense. To me the word legalist is used by whoever wishes to largely condemn others, much like we use the term denomination. Sometimes terms inside of a certain group are used differently than those outside that group. Even though I use terms like conservative, liberal, etc. I try not to cement my judgment on them.

  38. Alabama John says:

    Legalist are in most part simply following those that were before them out of Tradition and loyalty.

    Hard to think or teach an older Brother or Sister was wrong in what they taught and lived all their lives. Even more so if it wasn’t for them coming to me and bringing Christ with them I would not of been saved but would be lost. I owe them a BIG debt of gratitude.

    By the laws taught and observed today by the conservatives they would be considered lost by those conservatives of the 30-80’s. Many of the lost or saved beliefs have not been practiced or believed in many years so those conservatives of today would be considered liberal by those long dead.

    I think that trend of becoming more liberal will continue generation after generation so in future generations those that worship God will become more alike and there will be less separation and damning of one another.

    That is my prayer!

  39. Jay Guin says:


    The quote is from Campbell’s book The Christian System, which compiled articles from his Christian Baptist and Millennial Harbinger.

    Thomas Campbell referred to himself as a Calvinist very late in his life. A. Campbell published an article from his father, Thomas, on baptism in which Thomas took the classic Zwinglian/Calvinism view: salvation occurs at the moment of faith and baptism is an outward sign of an inner transformation that has already happened. This was (going from memory) maybe around 1845 — by which time the Restoration Movement has become a national movement.

    Alexander’s views on baptism were not Zwinglian/Calvinist/Baptist, but he considered Baptist baptism entirely sufficient and strongly objected to requiring rebaptism of Baptist converts — declaring that view “heresy” because it divides the church. And that was the majority view in the RM until Austin McGary began publishing the Firm Foundation and begin dividing churches over the baptism question around the turn of the century — long after the founders of the RM had died.

    The Gospel Advocate approved of Baptist baptisms as imperfect but sufficient, until Foy Wallace took over the editorship maybe in the 1930s. Wallace then brutally rejected those who agreed with the Campbells and Lipscomb and made approval of his views on baptism a salvation issue — you must believe both in Jesus and in the efficacy of baptism.

    By the 1950s, the contrary view was forgotten and considered damning — and yet we still honor the men who taught contrary to Wallace.

    So the conservative branch of the Churches of Christ is very far removed from the teachings of the Campbells. In fact, their teaching on who is and isn’t saved is exactly the opposite of the founding principles of the Restoration Movement.

  40. Gary says:

    Just a further note on the Gospel Advocate and the rebaptism question. The editorship of Foy Wallace, Jr. ended on a sour note due at least in part to his financial debts. He was followed by B.C. Goodpasture who was very much a moderate at the time in Churches of Christ. By the time I was a Lipscomb student in the mid 1970’s he was seen as a staunch conservative as he seemed to react strongly to what he perceived as a rise of liberalism in CoC. In the 1950’s, however, Goodpasture was leading mainline efforts to contain noninstitutionalism on the right. In 1955 the Gospel Advocate was 100 years old and a book was published entitled, if I remember correctly, the Centennial Volume. It was a compilation of GA articles over its first century. Goodpasture could have avoided the subject of rebaptism quite easily. But he included several outstanding GA articles from such stalwarts as David Lipscomb, James Harding and E.G. Sewell strongly affirming the validity of Baptist baptism. The book is still worth reading today. The last article to support the historic Gospel Advocate position opposing rebaptism was written by J.M. Powell, B.C. Goodpasture’s brother-inlaw, and was published in the 1980’s well after Goodpasture’s death. It was objected to by then by many of the conservative readers of the GA. As far as I know anything on rebaptism in the GA since Powell’s article has taken the conservative position that one must know and believe that baptism is for the remission of sins in order for the baptism to be valid.

  41. Dwight says:

    One thing I had never considered was that both John and Jesus baptized for the remission of sins, but as Acts 10:43 states “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
    So it was the belief in Jesus that cemented the actuality of baptism. This is also noted in Acts where those in Ephesus were re-baptized into Jesus as opposed to John.
    For the longest time I used to argue that the people asked “What must we do to be saved?”, when in actuality they asked “What must we do?”
    Now admittedly they were told “And it shall come to pass, That whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” and they had salvation on their minds most of the time, but the question was of need of what to do next.
    If they must have known that they were going to be saved through baptism as opposed to repentance, then they must have also needed to know what the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is of which many today within the church still debate over, since they would receive both. This is the best argument that I know of to argue that they must have at least been baptized into Jesus whether or not they understood all of the ramifications. Besides they weren’t given a “salvation card” or certificate after being baptized as this was a spiritual gain and immaterial promise, they would have their names written in heaven where only God could see it. Salvation is a promise to those who follow Christ and wasn’t received at baptism alone.
    The irony is that I know many preachers who argue that one must believe you are saved through baptism to be saved and yet they have flip-flopped in their understanding of what the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is.

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