2 Oct 2007

Seeking True Unity #3: Can’t We all Just Be Christians? The Restoration Plea? – Counselor Phil Sanders

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Exegesis, Ministry, Preaching, Restoration History, Unity
Can’t We all Just Be Christians? The Restoration Plea? – Counselor Phil Sanders

I have kept up the “courtroom” image in this post. I have attempted to maintain a lighthearted yet serious tone …

A Preliminary Distant Voice on Unity – Thomas Campbell
“[D]ivision among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion and every evil work.” (Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address, Proposition 10).
A Summary of the Prosecution’s Case
The Counselor bringing the case today is Phil Sanders. Phil is a godly man with a passion for the Lord and has a zeal for what he believes. He has a lively ministry with the Concord Road Church of Christ in the Nashville area. He has pressed the issues for the prosecution before especially through his book Adrift published by the Gospel Advocate Company.
Counselor Phil approaches the jury with a powerful opening metaphor. It is the image of a dish (i.e. the church) that has been dropped and shattered. The implication is, or so it would seem, that not only is the church divided but possibly was even lost (or destroyed). Restorationists put the pick up the pieces and meticulously put the dish back together again. That is by “returning to the truth found in the New Testament.”
We learn, the counselor argues, that early leaders of the restoration movement were weary of all the “bad-mouthing and exclusiveness of the denominations” (p. 17). These men were convinced that hope for “unity” could only rest on “following the truth of God’s word.” Our counselor quotes one early leader, Thomas Campbell, to the affect that only what is “expressly taught and enjoined” could be used as a term of communion (p.18).
The New Testament warns about perverting the truth of the Gospel. A series of references to Acts 20.29-30; 1 Tim 4.1-3; 2 Tim 3.1-13; 2 Tim 4.1-5; and 2 Pet 2.1-3 are called into the witness stand for the jury to hear. Each of these texts are powerful indeed.
Then we learn that not long after the first century that the simplicity of NT Christianity was perverted in spite of the warnings. “Century by century the church moved further away … It no longer followed God’s pattern in the New Testament but became something very different” (p. 19, my emphasis. Recall the dish/church that ceased being the church).
The counselor asks us to reflect upon the question of patternism. He claims that many suggest there is no pattern at all! For them “sprinkling is as good as immersion because the heart is all that matters” (p. 22). Some suggest that we can celebrate the Supper on a day other than Sunday. But there is a pattern and the pattern is fixed and appeals to Romans 16.17-18 (I think the counselor meant 6.17-18); 2 Thess 2.15; and 2 Tim 1.13 are called to prove this idea.
In his closing argument we learn, just as the opening illustration implied, that restoration as our counselor seems to understand it is not really a unity effort after all. Rather it is evangelism. “The work of restoration, then, is actually soul-winning” (p. 23). This is the logical outcome of his view. Those “out there” are not Christians in the first place and unity will happen when, and if, they happen to accept the prosecution’s case.
Observations and Questions from the Jury … the Judge has been Gracious
As I sat in the jury box hearing the arguments from Counselor Sanders I heard concern, as I did from Steve Higgenbotham, for biblical authority. In many ways Phil continues the thought of Steve that biblical authority is the “central issue” in unity. This as I pointed out before is simply an unproved and indeed unbiblical assumption. And as I pointed out to Counselor Steve this discussion and the attendant case would simply be impossible apart from a shared conviction for the authority of Scripture. Indeed it is nearly inconceivable that this case would make it to court in many a religious body. I point out the obvious because sometimes the obvious is overlooked and/or denied outright. At the very least it may be implied that only one side (i.e. the prosecution) truly respects Scripture. This is, of course, special pleading.
Firsts: Images, Metaphors & Ironies. My questions about the prosecutions case began with the opening metaphor. I agree that the church fell far below what God intended it to be. Yet I do not believe that Christianity is like Humpty Dumpty, who had a great fall and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men were not able to put him back together again. What if the church is really more like Israel in the Hebrew Bible … indeed I believe the story of the church is simply the continuation of the story of Israel. Many lessons can be gained through understanding the story of the church through the story of Israel. There was no “golden age” when the People of God had it all together either in the Torah, the Prophets nor Acts or Epistles. Israel was stiff-necked and rebellious since the moment Moses laid eyes on her and the same is true of the people we read in the NT. As bad as Israel got she was still God’s people. One wonders if the nadir of the Hebrew Bible is Judges or Hosea … or could it be that those are the high points because we see that when Israel was at her worst Yahweh was at his best. If Israel did not cease to be the people of God then chances are the dish may have become dirty but it was not shattered. The cement that holds the People of God together is not their covenant keeping but the faithfulness of the Lord. Most of the NT exists precisely because the early church was not pristine. The churches in Corinth, Galatia, Jerusalem were rife with moral problems, prejudice, false teaching and the like. Yet even the Corinthians are hailed as “saints” and the “church of God.” I dare say, again, that the Corinthians had far more serious issues than either Woodmont Hills or Richland Hills.
The church is not an organization like Standard Oil that will simply disappear when the board ceases to operate. The church of God is not reduced to organization in the New Testament. In fact there is surprisingly little in the NT that is actually concerned about that kind of stuff. I do not say there is NO concern just that it is not a major theme in the NT.

One wonders, if there are any kinds of parallels in the story of Israel and the Story of the Church, that simply a change in governmental structures can cause God’s church to be something “different?” I am no fan of the monarchical bishop, but I know enough about early church history to know that the rise of the bishop did not come out of a “departure” from apostolic faith but rather as a defense of the faith against Gnosticism. Ignatius certainly loved the Lord Jesus enough to die in the ring for him and yet he believed the bishop was of critical importance in preserving the faith … Ignatius’ motives certainly seem to have been higher than Israel’s when they demanded a change in government simply because they wanted to “be like the nations.” Yet did a change of government mean Israel was no longer Israel? Did God like the change? No! Did he cast off his people because of it? No!

Since I bring up Ignatius another point comes to mind. What New Testament did Ignatius have that he was supposed to “have left the truth” contained therein? He knew the “OT” by heart seemingly but the writings of the NT it would seem he knew only a handful of them. The NT, as we know it today, did not exist in his day. This is a major problem that is all to easily brushed aside by the prosecuting counsel.
It is ironic that Counselor Phil should appeal to the early leaders of the Stone-Campbell Movement. It is true that they were weary of narrowness, “bad-mouthing and exclusiveness.” That word “exclusiveness” coming from Phil is interesting indeed. Some information briefs sent to the court indicate that the prosecution holds to a position that is far more “exclusive” than what those early “church leaders” so loudly protested. Indeed one of those leaders, Alexander Campbell, came under fire for not being exclusive enough. Defending himself he writes in the Christian Baptist,
This plan of making our own nest, and fluttering over our own brood; of building our own tent, and of confining all goodness and grace to our noble selves and the ‘elect few’ who are like us, is the quintessence of sublimated pharisaism …To lock ourselves up in the bandbox of our own little circle, to associate with a few units, tens or hundreds, as the pure church, as the elect, is real Protestant monkery, it is evangelical nunnery” (To an Independent Baptist, Christian Baptist 3 [May 1, 1826], 204)
I know that AC is not inspired … but if the prosecution can quote “early church leaders” then so can the questioning jury. Truly, in light of the entire speech of Counselor Sanders one has to wonder if much progress has been made from the narrow exclusiveness that those early leaders so valiantly protested?
There are further ironies in the prosecutions case. Counselor Sanders quotes Thomas Campbell in saying that only “what is expressly taught” on Christians can be enjoined as a test of fellowship (p. 18). Has it dawned on anyone else in the jury that the issue that brought this case to trial does not meet this criteria. The argument against instrumental music does not rest on any expressly taught truth rather it is based on silence and historical inference. Indeed not only does this Thomas Campbell say that only what is expressly taught can be held as a test of fellowship, Counselor Sanders overlooks what he says just three propositions down in the Declaration & Address
“{A}lthough inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection … for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession.” (Proposition 6).
These “early church leaders” who protested so mightily against narrow sectarian “exclusivism” found that exclusive attitude largely rooted in inferences that were used to exclude family members from fellowship. Now Counselor Phil and company are doing exactly what these leaders protested (and if Phil is to be believed Campbell and company were right in that protest … thus in the spirit of those leaders I will continue their protest when Phil does exactly what those denominational exclusivists did in 1809.)
But is it not so easy to fall into the sectarian trap? I do not claim to have escaped it. I find the demon of sectarianism rising in my own consciousness far more than I am pleased with … Thank God for the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in crucifying this demon to the cross of Christ!! But the trap is easy to slip into. Among the various baits that are used in this trap is one that appeals, ironically, to both our sense of loyalty to the biblical text and to our pride of understanding … we begin to believe in our own infallibility. Thus what is born is a “Pope” in the belly. He attacks both the quest for truth and the freedom to pursue it under the guise that all has been mastered already. Barton Stone, an “early church leader” was so concerned about this that when he started his Christian Messenger in November 1826 the first article to confront the reader addressed it.
We must be fully persuaded, that all uninspired men are fallible, and therefore liable to err … Luther, in a coarse manner, said that every man was born with a Pope in his belly. By which I suppose he meant, that every man deemed himself infallible … If the present generation remain under the influence of this principle, the consequences must be that the spirit of free inquiry will die – our liberty lie prostrated at the feet of ecclesiastical demagogues” (Christian Messenger 1 [November 1826], 2)
When I survey the doctrinal war zone of the Churches of Christ it looks like the wasteland of Verdun … congregations alienated, bodies of brethren who rather exchange “gospel bullets” than the kiss of peace, armies exhausted from the bloodshed, no one a victor … except the Prince of Demons. The issues range from cups to singing groups to orphan homes to, in this case, instrumental music. And I see each group, seemingly, acting as if they have a Pope in the belly … every one is mistaken except them!!! Everyone is in need of repentance … except them. Shades of Jonah.
But our Counselor is correct, our early church leaders protested this kind of stuff. And rightly so. I join their protest.
Seconds: Questions About those Texts? In truth these texts do not, not one of them, suggest that instrumental music is wrong. I believe every one of them. But they are being forced into a service that Paul and Peter did not write them for. First Timothy 4.1-3 speaks of abstainers (of marriage and food). This is known as asceticism. Other things usually went along with that false position. Again it is ironic that Phil is the abstainer in this case (of IM). How this text addresses, either for or against, IM is a stretch … except where some make laws of prohibition that God did not make. Second Timothy 3 is another one that after it is read one wonders what Phil is saying about Atchley. Indeed more than likely this text is talking about the same folks described in 1 Tim 4. Can Phil demonstrate that Rick is a “lover of money” or abusive? or a “lover of pleasure”? that his is unforgiving? unholy? This is extreme even for the prosecution. I submit to my fellow jurors that this text has been hijacked. Indeed I think the rest of the texts basically have been lifted out of context and misapplied. It is bad methodology to make a doctrine out of our inference, then declare that disloyalty to our inference is actually disloyalty to God. Then we find texts that address false teaching for sure (but usually we are not left to inference in identifying that false teaching) and creatively apply it to our inference. That is great prosecution but bad theology . But it is always helpful to your case when you can paint your opponent (i.e. brother!!) in the worst possible light.
Thirds: Unity, Truths & The Truth. What I am about to suggest from the jury box is likely to be the most controversial thing so far. I have already suggested it when asking Counselor Higgenbotham some questions. His partner, Phil, has suggested repeatedly that the church Jesus built “could never approve of unifying the truth with error, because Jesus would never approve of unifying with error” (p. 20).
At first sight this sounds logical and spiritual and correct. And I am deeply inclined to it myself. But as I reflected on the story of Jesus in the Gospels and the church recorded in the pages of the NT, I began to have doubts about its accuracy. One wonders for example if Jesus had gracious fellowship with the Twelve walking around Galilee? Were these men free from doctrinal error? Did they have the right conception of what “messiah” meant? Did they have dreams of militaristic glory for the kingdom? After all the Gospels are replete with stories of how “quick” these disciples were and Jesus never bemoaned how thick headed they were! If Jesus never had fellowship with error one wonders what Judas was doing at the Passover/Last Supper? Was this not an “act of worship”? Clearly Sanders statement is in need of qualification for the Twelve had serious religious errors flowing through their brains.
What about Paul? Did he ever fellowship those in doctrinal error? The answer to this is obvious for anyone that reads his letters. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly “we” in Churches of Christ are to pull the fellowship plug especially in light of 1 Corinthians … whose relevance is often simply dismissed. Yet I cannot get over the error that Paul did in fact fellowship. Look at what is contained in this letter:

1) They had division and partyism (baptism played a key role in this schism)
2) They had “issues” with Paul’s authority and apostleship
3) They not only had sexual perversion but openly approved of it as a sign of superior wisdom
4) They had lawsuits in public court destroying the unity and witness of the Body
5) They had problems regarding sexuality, marriage and asceticism
6) They had folks who still had not accepted the doctrine of monotheism (cf. 8.7)

7) They had doctrinal issues regarding worship: problems with the Lord’s Supper
8) They had huge issues over spiritual gifts and the worship assembly
9) They even had folks who denied the resurrection!
10) They seem to have had a great lack of love for one another

Did Paul fellowship error?? Yes he did! That does not mean he approved it or endorsed it. But there is no way to get around that he was in fellowship with the Corinthians. If the prosecution could say of Rick or Bob Russell what Paul did of the Corinthians what a different world we would live in! Here is Paul’s language for this messed up church: “To the church of God . . . to those SANCTIFIED in Christ Jesus . . .” Paul then says “I ALWAYS thank God for you because of his grace given you in Jesus . . .” Those are some remarkable words from Paul. Paul does not give thanks because the Corinthians got everything right or anything right. He thanks God for the grace that has been given them.
One text needs further looking at though because it highlights this idea of unity on biblical authority. Though most simply read over chapter 8 as an ancient and arcane discussion about idols that is to miss the point greatly. Idols are literally nothing in biblical theology! It is interesting that Paul sets up a contrast between “knowledge” and “love” (v.1) clearly anticipating chapter 13. It just so happens that in chapter 8 the “knowledge that puffs up” is correct biblical Truth! But there are folks within the Corinthian church that have not fully made the transition from a pagan worldview to one built upon “truth” and “knowledge.” Paul even says, paraphrasing the Shema (Deut 6.4), that “for us” there is truly one God. The issue is not simply food but idolatry and monotheism (cf. Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, pp.190-196). These folks in Corinth thought (and acted upon that belief), incorrectly, that the idols was in fact something.
Paul makes this crystal clear in v.7 “But not everyone knows this.” What is that is not know in the context of that sentence? It can only be that biblical truth, testified throughout the “Old Testament” that there was only one God.
This is a most interesting case in Corinth. Paul could have easily produced dozens of texts (Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, etc) to establish unity on biblical authority and the “truth” of only one God. But he did not do this. This is not some minor truth either … this is what might be called “major.” But Paul recognized something that the prosecution has utterly failed to recognize. Truth is always true but not all truth is equally important. Error is always error but not all error is equally important. There is a pecking order even in the Bible … even in the NT. In the case of 1 Corinthians 8 Paul clearly takes the side of the one who is in demonstrable biblical error. Why does he do this? Because for Paul there was an Ultimate Truth and he states it in v.11
So this weak brother (i.e. WRONG brother/in error brother!) for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge (i.e. correct biblical truth!!).
Paul does not accuse these brothers of outright idolatry but he does say they did not fully accept one of the basic truths of the Bible. It is also clear that Paul does not agree with these brothers, he knows they are wrong. And this is far greater than instrumental music! Paul had no trouble excising the immoral brother … So Why is that Paul did not simply boot these clearly in the wrong brothers from the church? Why did he not simply tell them to embrace the “truth” and “get over it.” Why is it that he actually rebukes those who are biblically correct? The reason for this is because for Paul was a Truth that trumped all others. Paul did not have unity with these weak brothers on the basis of the “centrality of biblical authority.” Paul had unity with them because of the “centrality” of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and their faith in him. This was the basis of unity and fellowship.
Alex Wilson, a member of one of those cast of “portions” of the Family of God commented “How Can We Be Saved If Our Doctrines are Wrong?” “Legalism nearly always results in sectarianism and strife. Our bitter bickering and blacklisting were rooted in the feeling that salvation depends on being doctrinally correct! How could God save a person who believed wrong doctrines?!” (Wilson’s Essay is located Here). But I agree with Paul and Monroe Hawley who said “This I know! God is a God of grace, and if I am saved, it will not be because of my perfect obedience, but because of his grace in which I am redeemed in spite of my lack of knowledge or my imperfect actions” (Is Christ Divided? pp. 96-97). This is the very reason Paul can write as he did in 1 Cor 8. Knowledge, even correct biblical truth, can puff up. But love builds up.
Final Words
I think Phil’s illustration of the dish highlights the weakness of his entire position. Let me switch metaphors to illustrate. The prosecutions theology might be called the balloon theory of theology. Balloons are inherently fragile entities. Tension along the surface of the balloon is fairly equal. Because of this these balloons are easily threatened. Balloons inflated with gas blows apart when punctured by a single pin – at any point on its surface! The balloon cannot endure even the tiniest of ruptures anywhere. When pricked the entire balloon explodes with considerable force destroying itself. In the same way when ones theology makes inference the same weight as anything else it does not surprise that one “departure” from that pattern blows the entire structure apart. As one once put it, one digression from the “pattern” “makes one an apostate from our ranks.” No wonder the dish was destroyed! But since balloons are so inherently fragile perhaps this explains why some, like the prosecutions lawyers, are so out to put protective “hedges” around the balloon.
I blush for my fellows, who uphold the Bible as the bond of union yet make their opinions of it tests of fellowship; who plead for union of all Christians; yet refuse fellowship with such as dissent from their notions. Vain men! Their zeal is not according to knowledge, nor is their spirit that of Christ …”(Barton W. Stone, “Remarks,” Christian Messenger [August 1835], 180).
I believe in the “restoration plea.” I believe that God is far more concerned about our being resident aliens in this age than playing or not playing. I have no, and I mean no, desire to worship with an instrument. I don’t seek it and I don’t want it. But I recognize it is not a test of fellowship and that I and others do unite on the Ultimate Truth … the one who said he was THE truth … I cannot explain 1 Corinthians 8 any other way.

J. N. Armstrong asked W.E. Brightwell if could have fellowship with a person who offered animal sacrifices? Paul did it, apparently the early church did it, James suggested it to Paul … question for Phil, “Did Paul worship with instruments when he offered that sacrifice in the temple? Could you fellowship the apostle Paul?”

See Seeking True Unity #1 HERE
See Seeking True Unity #2 HERE
See Seeking True Unity #4 HERE

From one seeker to another in the quest for greater understanding and unity,

 

Bobby Valentine

 

25 Responses to “Seeking True Unity #3: Can’t We all Just Be Christians? The Restoration Plea? – Counselor Phil Sanders”

  1. Falantedios Says:

    The inherent contradiction in quoting the Declaration and Address to support legislation by inference totally perplexed me.

    I look forward to the upcoming discussion.

    in HIS love,
    Nick

  2. Matthew Says:

    I mentioned this discussion in my blog today.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Bobby,
    Oh, this is good and gets at the heart of so many extremely relevant issues! As with “Kingdom Come” I find myself saying “Amen! Amen!” to most of what you say, but then, “Watch out!” and “Oh no!” to other parts. What a challenge it is to comment briefly! But I’ll try.

    At the risk of oversimplification, might I suggest that two problems are revealed in your analysis of the “trial:”

    (1) There is no doubt that the ‘prosecution” has a sectarian concept of God’s church, and you have brilliantly pointed that out. That’s where I say, “Amen!” God’s church is not an organization that can break into hundreds of pieces. It is not an historical movement started by Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone with traditions that need to be protected. It is an indivisible body composed of blood-bought people with different levels of growth and understanding. It includes Corinthians, Laodiceans, stumbling disciples and I am confident that it includes you, me, the prosecutor and countless others we could never know in spite of our innumerable imperfections.

    (2) However, I also believe there can be a problem of over-tolerance, of approving what God disapproves, or whatever you want to call it. Two of your excellent examples can help me illustrate the danger of the second error as you have so skillfully used them to illustrate the danger of the first: (a) The Jews of the O.T. and (b) Ignatius and other Second Century Disciples.

    (a) The O.T. Jews certainly remained God’s people as they were in various stages of apostasy. (Remember, however, that many eventually weren’t saved [Rom. 9-11]) The fact, however, that God gave them time and was merciful towards them, doesn’t detract from the fact that he constantly sent them prophets to warn about any compromise with idolatry! I believe whole-heartedly that the entertainment culture, sectarian thinking that we both lament, materialism, etc. are modern idols and that many spiritual Jews are “halting between two sides” and making unnecessary compromises with them. The entertainment oriented worship, the denominational thinking behind institutionalism and wasteful church spending on fun and frolic represent concessions to these idols. What happens when we try to lovingly plead like Hosea and Elijah for God’s people to avoid these contaminations? We are usually rejected and labeled. Truthfully, it wasn’t Hosea and Elijah that rejected O.T. Israel, it was O.T. Israel that rejected them. To have told Hosea, Amos and other prophets to be more “tolerant” with compromisers because God is merciful would have been to miss the point. God told them to speak out against concessions with idolatry, and they did. God’s mercy with Israel, was His business. There’s was to warn against compromise and plead for an appreciation of God’s love.

    (b) This is already too long, but the fact that we both admire Ignatius in some ways and feel confident of God’s mercy towards him, doesn’t mean that the concept of one-bishop rule shouldn’t have been challenged, if not on the basis of written N.T. scripture which he would not have had in completed form, then on the basis of the oral teaching he received from John and other inspired prophets. To have opposed that one-bishop rule, diocesan bishops and the hierarchy that eventually followed would have brought on the “sword” especially later on, but it would have been the right thing to do.

    I think the key to imitating the prophets and Jesus himself is to avoid sectarian concepts and traditions such as that propagated by the “prosecution,” but also to lovingly, mercifully and humbly warn against compromises with modern idolatry, even though that latter course brings on conflict and causes others to cut fellowship with us. Jesus did say that his teaching would bring on the sword.

    Sorry this was so long! In Him, Gardner

  4. Gardner Hall Says:

    Comment above is mine. Don’t know why it says “anonymous.” Thanks, Gardner

  5. Falantedios Says:

    I really like the way you write, Gardner. I hope I eventually get back to dealing with real things on my blog so that I can get to be sharpened by your passionate and incisive love of God.

    in HIS love,
    Nick

  6. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Gardner,

    I can only be brief at the moment but I will return with more substantive interaction later.

    First, I did not mean to imply that that the bishop system should not be challenged. I simply said that change in the “pattern” did not necessarily mean the church ceased to exist. Second about Ignatius he did not depart from the “NT” and the “truth” contained therein because he did not have the NT nor did anyone at that time. This calls the entire notion of “pattern” as Phil and others promote it into serious question.

    You are right that there will be physical Jews who are not “saved” in the end. But this does not mean that God ever cast off his people. God has only one people … the Israel of God.

    I would appreciate your interaction with what was said about Jesus, then Paul and the Corinthians. I know i will benefit from it.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  7. Dale's Spot Says:

    OK…I’m sure I will regret this, but taking that risk let me state it is disturbing when we paint others with one stroke of the brush (and I imagine most of us do that and it’s usually done toward those with whom we differ). But gardner (and I don’t think I know you/him), for you to say: “There is no doubt that the ‘prosecution’ has a sectarian concept of God’s church…” That’s a mighty huge leap. For one to say that there are people who are not Christians does not make one sectarian. I know that there are many who I differ with who are my brothers and who I love – I am not their judge. For me to suggest that their was is not the best way does not make me sectarian. BUT, it seems many today want to accept ALL and say things like “well, Paul accepted the Corinthians in Corinth.” Yes, and amen and they did have some real issues but they were Christians. They had submitted to accepting God’s grace. And what I seem to be seeing today is a lessening of that committment. It is not sectarian to say that a persom must be in Christ…to well, be in Christ!

  8. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Dale welcome to the blog. But I don’t think you have read Gardner correctly.

    Gardner did not say Phil exhibited a sectarian view of the church because he thinks there are those outside of Christ. I suspect Gardner, and myself, would agree with that.

    He said it was sectarian because it turned the church into machinery.

    Blessings brother,
    Bobby Valentine

  9. Royce Ogle Says:

    Thanks Bobby, Gardner, and others. I am glad that there are some who can banter about ideas while remaining civil.

    I fear that some of our more traditional brothers have erred in the same way as the Catholics. The sum of the members of the churches of Christ on earth are is not the same as the catholic (universal) body of Christ. The body of Christ does not have one lost person in it. Anyone who believes there is not one imposter who is an active member in any local church of Christ is border line insane.

    Secondly, some of our brothers have assigned authority to the churches of Christ that puts it on equal footing with the Scriptues as to authority. The prime example is the belief that unless one is immersed in a church of Christ, or by a church of Christ brother, the baptism is invalid. The idea that someone can obey Jesus’s command about baptism and be wrong because he has not complied with someone’s misunderstanding of baptism is a sad state of affairs.

    Third, is the idea that what we do and how we do it in Sunday assembly has some salvatory merit. Have some of us made “church” an idol?

    Bobby, you are right on the money on the basis of Christian Unity. It would be very profitable for all of us, but especially those of us who are quick to appeal to early Restorationists, to actually study the history of the Restoration Movement. Much of our tribe is far removed from the founder’s ideals.

    Finally, some of our brothers should be required to read 1 John 100 times or until they understand it. Perhaps then they would understand the focal point of Christian unity…CHRIST and our faith in Him.

    Grace to you,
    Royce Ogle

  10. Dale's Spot Says:

    Royce – and others I am not looking for a fight you are correct – “Anyone who believes there is not one imposter who is an active member in any local church of Christ is border line insane.” But I have never heard anyone so affirm.

    But to think that some accountable person will be saved outside of the body of Christ seems equally insane. Yes, one must be a member of the church of Christ to be saved. Can one not saved who is not a part of the body of Christ, the church of God?

    “The prime example is the belief that unless one is immersed in a church of Christ, or by a church of Christ brother, the baptism is invalid…” I suppose that person who ascribes to this absurb notion exists – surely they do as often as I see them referenced, but I’ve never met them and as any of you konw who know me, I know those in some of the most conservative of circles. But to hear some state it, it is as if this is a cardinal characteristic of members of the church today. It is NOT. In fact you’d be hard pressed to find a congregation that has not accepted someone who was baptized in a building without the name Church of Christ over the door.

  11. K. Rex Butts Says:

    “The churches in Corinth, Galatia, Jerusalem were rife with moral problems, prejudice, false teaching and the like. Yet even the Corinthians are hailed as “saints” and the “church of God.” I dare say, again, that the Corinthians had far more serious issues than either Woodmont Hills or Richland Hills.”

    I dare say that the Corinthians had far more serious issues than many of those “denominational” congregations down the road – across the way – over yonder that exist in our own neighberhoods and communities with which many Churches of Christ continue to deny fellowship too.

  12. Gardner Hall Says:

    These exchanges are extremely interesting and I thank all for their sincerity and loving spirit. I’m learning a lot! Thanks Nick for your kind words. I’ve grown to appreciate your genuineness during these few months that I’ve been checking Bobby’s blog.

    Dale, when I say that the “prosecution” is sectarian, I don’t mean to sound nasty. I’m not accusing the “prosecution” of being anything I haven’t been in the past and still have to fight being on occasions. The primary factor that made me describe the prosecution’s case as being sectarian is its characterization of God’s church as a dropped and shattered dish that has been put together by restorers. I will state that I haven’t read the prosecution’s case directly, only Bobby’s portrayal of it. However, I trust that Bobby has depicted it fairly.

    That metaphor of a broken dish cannot be used of God’s church, which is simply his assembly of saved individuals. Though it contains imperfect individuals (like the Corinthians, disciples, Laodiceans, etc.) it can never be divided or broken. People can slide away from it and leave it (that’s synonymous with leaving Christ) and God can remove apostates from it (only he determines at what point he does that) but it can’t be divided or broken it into pieces! Royce, you’re on target on this point. The metaphor can be used of a religious tradition, a movement, a loose collection of local churches found in directories, i.e. a sect., but not of Christ’s body, His church.

    Dale, when you ask if one can be saved who is not a part of the body of Christ, the church of God?” we would all answer “no.” However, we may have different entities in mind when thinking of the “body of Christ” or “church of God.”

    (a) If by body of Christ you mean a religious movement that was restored by Stone and Campbell that now has about “3,000,000 members in over 120 countries,” I would declare emphatically, No! You don’t have to belong to that to be saved. I fear from the prosecutor’s metaphor that something like this entity is what he has in mind when talking of the church of God, whether he actually realizes it or not.

    (b) However, if you mean the blood bought body of individuals to whom God will extend His mercy in spite of imperfect growth, yes, you must be a part of that to be saved, because being in Christ and being a part of that body is synonymous.

    Bobby, I think we are pretty much in agreement on God’s patience with the Jews, Jesus’ patience with the disciples, Paul’s patience with the Corinthians. You are “spot on” in pointing out that all of these people were considered God’s people in spite of serious defects. I have in the past emphasized those last two groups (the disciples and Corinthians) and also the diversity in the seven churches of Asia when having exchanges with brethren that I know who are of the “Texas tradition.” However, though the Corinthians, Laodiceans, etc. were in the body, they needed correction to avoid having their candlestick removed and those with similar errors today also need loving correction! That’s where I think we disagree. For example, you did not seem to think that Lipscomb and Harding were correct in opposing the Missionary Society. However, I think they were simply following in the steps of Paul and correcting errors that reflected and fueled sectarian concepts. Just as the embryonic hierarchy that began to be formed in the Second and Third Centuries, should have been confronted at the very beginning, so the Missionary Society should have been confronted. Lipscomb and Harding were right!

    We may disagree on semantics regarding Ignatius. I know you’re making a big point about the fact that he didn’t have the completed New Testament canon, but he did have revelation in oral form. Do you mean to imply that the revelation he had in oral form was essentialy different from what we have today in written form? Couldn’t he have been corrected by the simple fact transmitted orally that Paul and other apostles always ordained “elders” in every church? Could you say that our attitude towards God’s revelation as it is given to us is a key to unity? (I don’t think that the main error of the “Texas tradition” is that they insist on the scriptures as a key to unity, but rather that they ignore the scriptures teaching on growth, mercy, the makeup of the church, etc. Their problem is not too much emphasis on scripture, but rather too little on scripture and too much on tradition!)

    One other quick point – Couldn’t Ignatius’s one-bishop rule have been both a response to Gnosticism and at the same time a departure from apostolic doctrine? Why does it have to be one or the other? At what point in the development of Catholicism did a departure from apostolic doctrine occur: (a) one-bishop overseeing? (b) diocesan bishops? (c) archbishops? (d) the papacy? I don’t have any problem in saying “a.” I think we would all agree that it had occurred at least by the time of the papacy, “d”. If you don’t think a departure was at “a,” where then did it begin to occur?

    Sorry I’m long again. It’s late! God bless all, Gardner

  13. ben overby Says:

    I’m really glad to notice Dale’s interaction. I think this is healthy.

    Bobby, this is up there with some of your most lucid and effective writing. I don’t think you left any stone unturned. Frankly, I don’t see any point in the whole piece that’s not worthy of a big, fat, AMEN!

    Keep preaching Him and Him crucified.

    benoverby.wordpress.com

  14. preacherman Says:

    Bobby,
    You make excellent points.
    I totally agree.
    This is a great discussion.
    God bless you brother.

  15. Kent Says:

    Bobby-

    That has to be one of the best breakdowns I have read of the conservative position. My reaction after reading it was “Wow”!

    With that said, ultimately what stands out to me is the tone of the conversation between you and Phil and others. There is no mudslinging. There is respect. And that is something that we have to have and maintain.

    I don’t know if you read Keith Brenton’s blog the other day but he basically said that we (the progressives) need the conservatives and they need us. We are in this things together for better or worse. So, we have to have respect. I appreciate that more than anything about this important conversation.

    Kent Benfer

  16. Danny Says:

    All I can say Bob is wow!

    The journeys you take us on with this blog are incredible.

    Look forward to more.

  17. Zack Says:

    I am truly enjoying reading your thoughts from the court room and about these brethrens’s topics. Keep up the good work! Very thought provoking stuff. Too many churches are at odds with each other about too many things that are unimportant. And even somethings that are of great importance. If we took the attitude of Paul towards the Corinthians this whole world would be much better because of it.
    I am on a series of posts on 1 Corinthians. May I use some of your thoughts here in future posts? Peace be yours in Jesus! Be blessed!

  18. Darin Says:

    Thanks Bobby, very well written.

  19. preacherman Says:

    Bobby,
    Keep us thinking and challenged.
    God bless you brother.
    You are great at it.
    Keep it up!

  20. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Zack feel free to use whatever you deem useful and helpful.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  21. cwinwc Says:

    Dale Spot – I’m jumping in late but I did want to let you know that there is a preacher at the neighboring coC in our area that not only will not “accept” who has been baptized in a non-coC, he also insists that if an air bubble develops in your “baptism robe” as your immersed, you are not in the Kingdom and are condemned to Hell unless someone in a coC re-baptizes you.

    Sadly he isn’t alone in our area.

  22. Bryan Says:

    Well worth the read. I especially appreciate your illustrations and the discussion on the continuity between Israel and the church.

  23. preacherman Says:

    Bobby,
    May prayer just as Jesus prayer is that we will be, “Just Christians.” Imagine what the church would be like. What the church could accomplish. How we would treat one another. What we would focus on. How our worship would be. Imagine our attitudes to one another. Imagaine if we were all just Christians. Disciples. Followers of the Messiah. Focused on Him. Desiring to be more like him daily. Desiring to know Him.

    I let my congregation know that there is a difference in knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. Imagine what it would be like if we really knew Jesus personally. And we were just Christians.

    I want to thank you for this post and again, challenging my faith and relationship with God. You are and have been such a blessing to my life. I am so excited about reading your new book. God bless you and your ministry as well as the writting you do. Thank you for making a difference in the Kingdom. God bless you brother. Keep it up!

  24. Alan Says:

    I’m late to the party here, having just returned from the ICOC’s International Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. On Sunday afternoon at the conference, nine people were baptized into Christ. They were only asked two questions prior to baptism. First, they were asked if they believe the basic gospel facts about Jesus. Second, they were asked to confess Jesus as Lord. They weren’t asked anything about musical instruments, nor about the role of women, nor about any of the other contentious issues that have divided churches. Yet I defy anyone to demonstrate that they are not our brothers and sisters in Christ. Those two questions encompass what is required to become a Christian, and therefore what is required for Christian fellowship. The rest of the truths of Christianity are to be learned and implemented over the course of a lifetime.

  25. Mitchell Says:

    Bobby,

    I’ve been reading up on your blog since Matthew pointed me your way. I appreciate your thoughts on unity as this is something ! take seriously. I just wrote an article on my blog concerning unity, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Mitchell
    http://www.mitchellskelton.blogspot.com

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