21 Jun 2017

“POSTED – Legalists Stay Out!” K. C. Moser’s Journey with the Epistle to the Romans

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Grace, Holy Spirit, K. C. Moser, Restoration History, Romans, Salvation

K. C. Moser speaking at a Campus Evangelism Seminar

“No other book so clearly and fully sets for the fundamental principles of Christianity as Romans. It is necessary to learn Romans in order to appreciate and accurately to teach Christianity.” – K. C. Moser

I first encountered K. C. Moser in a class with Jim Massey at what is now Heritage Christian University in 1988 but it was not until several years later that his life and teaching captured my imagination.  I give credit to Leonard Allen’s 1992 book, Distant Voices and then the W. B. West Lecture by John Mark Hicks at Harding Graduate School of Religion as introducing me to just how radical Moser was.  His emphasis on Jesus as the object of faith, on grace, faith, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit were things that I simply did not grow up with.  Since then I have been digging into Moser’s life and have lectured on him at the ACU Lectures and the Christian Scholars Conference and written on him numerous times. Now with “The Message of Romans” being the theme for the 2017 Lipscomb University Summer Celebration I have decided to share briefly on Moser’s personal journey with Romans.  It is difficult to imagine the Churches of Christ and Romans without K. C. Moser.

A Life in a Paragraph

Kenny Carl Moser (1893-1976) was born and bred in Texas. His father, J. S. was a semi-well known preacher throughout the region that K. C. would also spend most of his life, Texas and Oklahoma. K. C. became certified in Texas to teach school but entered in Thorp Springs Christian College in 1915 and then became the music instructor at the school for 1918-1919. Moser preached for various congregations for the next 50 years mostly in Oklahoma.  In 1925 at the recommendation of Foy Wallace Jr he became the pulpit preacher for the Tenth & Francis Church in Oklahoma City, a ministry that was pivotal for Moser’s theological development.  It has been stated that in the past that Moser was banned from the ACC Lectures but he actually appeared on the program in 1937 but he was in fact quite controversial.  Late in his life he was invited by F. W. Mattox (the Mattox’s were members of Moser’s congregation at 12th & Drexel in Oklahoma City in the 1940s) to be professor of Bible at Lubbock Christian College.  He entered his reward his reward in 1976 having blessed hundreds of ministers and Christians in their discovery that we are saved by Jesus himself and not by some Plan. Fittingly the last published article by Moser was a month before his death in Twentieth Century Christian simply titled “The Resurrection.”

Moser’s 1929 booklet

Romans “Converts” Moser (1923-1926)

In 1925, Moser’s career was on the rise. He was E. M. Borden’s co-editor of the publication called The Herald of Truth, a frequent speaker on programs in Oklahoma and Texas and since 1923 had been the preacher at the flagship church in Oklahoma City, Tenth and Francis Street Church of Christ.  Foy E. Wallace Jr was Moser’s immediate predecessor and had publicly campaigned for Moser to get the job.  Wallace wrote in The Herald of Truth,

Brother K. C. Moser takes up the work in Oklahoma City. They will find in Brother Moser a consecrated man of God, a capable preacher and an efficient leader. He knows the Bible, believes it and preaches it. He is sound to the core and under his teaching and work I do no doubt that the church will enjoy a steady and pleasing growth.

It was in his pastoral ministry at Tenth and Francis that Moser became concerned about the spiritual health of not only his congregation but of the churches.  He wrote that “Our debaters affirm ‘we’ are scriptural in doctrine and practice” but he confesses “I would be slow to debate the practice part of it.” In particular Moser was dismayed by the lack of joy, vitality and the worldliness among disciples.  In 1925, Moser began asking in the Herald of Truth what was wrong, why was it that we seemingly were the true church and yet lacked what was on the pages of the NT (joy, vitality and holiness). What was the difference between those first century churches and those in the 1920s? As far as the known record is concerned this is when Moser first turns to Paul’s letter to the Romans.

It was May 1925, Moser published an article called “Paul’s Natural Man” which indicates that Moser had begun to study a work that would change his ministry and his life. By the end of 1926, Moser had left Tenth and Francis and announced he had embraced the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit from his study of Romans and entered his first theological debate in the pages of the Firm Foundation.  In his announcement he cites Romans 8 for the first time in his extant writings. He apparently had believed that “spirit” meant “disposition” as many preachers did at the time.  But he wrote,

Paul did not mean by ‘Spirit,’ disposition. For in the very same connection he writes, ‘But if the Spirit of Him raised Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you,’ etc. It was not simply a ‘disposition’ that raised Jesus from the dead.”

W. T. Kidwell immediately challenged Moser’s new interpretation of Romans 8.  He responded “let Brother M. perform a few miracles and thus prove that the Spirit that inspired the apostles is in him, then I will believe it.” But Moser had come to believe that the reason for a lack of joy, vitality and the resultant worldliness in churches stemmed from a denial of the indwelling Holy Spirit that he himself had taught.

For the rest of his life Moser was a lover of the Epistle to the Romans.

“Legalism is the Father of the Denial of the Indwelling Spirt” (1929-32)

By 1929, Moser was preaching in Wewoka, Oklahoma.  Here he continued to plumb Paul’s letter to the Romans.  While in Wewoka in 1929, Moser had published a small booklet entitled Studies In Romans (Outlines and Comments). The booklet consists of a numbered outline of each chapter followed by brief comments on the points in the outline. I had never seen the work nor any reference to the work prior to discovering it several years ago. In this short booklet he wrestles with “the righteousness of God” for the first time.

Moser’s theology of the Holy Spirit also moved from the fact of the indwelling Spirit to the belief that the Holy Spirit’s active presence was essential to the Christian life.  God’s Spirit does something in the life of Christians, it is not a mere idea for us to affirm.

The study of Romans led to publishing a series of articles in the Firm Foundation.  Here Moser became embroiled in his second debate, this time with F. L. Colley.  Moser had published an article called “The Earnest of the Spirit” from Romans to which not only Colley but several took exception to. Focusing on Colley Moser wrote, plainly,

Those who deny the indwelling of the Holy Spirit leave grace for law, and would exchange the safety under Christ for the wretched condition described in Romans the seventh chapter … Legalism is the father of the denial of the personal indwelling of the Spirit … The indwelling of the spirit [sic] has no place under law … God is Spirit; under Christ the birth is spiritual; our citizenship is spiritual; circumcision is spiritual; the priesthood is spiritual; our sacrifice is spiritual; our virtues are PRODUCED by the Spirit” (my emphasis).

Moser followed up his exchange with Colley with a series of three articles in the Firm Foundation under the heading of “Thoughts on Romans.”  His articles suddenly stop however in January 1931. Moser’s articles and his booklet bore fruit in the publication in 1932 of The Way of Salvation.  Here Moser’s thought had significantly crystallized and was regarded dangerous enough that R. L. Whiteside formally responded to Moser with a series on Romans in the Gospel Advocate which eventually became Whiteside’s Commentary on Romans.

It was Romans that convinced Moser that one cannot be a Christian without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It was Romans that convinced Moser that the key to Christian life was the Holy Spirit who produces by his power the fruit of the Spirit and the image of Jesus within the disciple.  Without the Spirit, God’s own power coursing through our being, then Christianity is nothing but a super law.

But what would cause us to deny the indwelling Spirit, as Moser himself had done? It was, he stated, one of the plainest truths taught in the New Testament?  Legalism is the father of the denial of the indwelling Spirit, Moser opined.  From here Moser began to investigate where this legalism came from … our preaching of law (i.e. plans) rather than the Gospel, the good news that we have a Savior not that we save ourselves, was the culprit. Romans was the antidote to both legalistic preaching and the legalistic view of Christian living (sanctification).

Studies in Romans (1937)

Moser had come under attack by many in the brotherhood for his teaching on the Spirit and then for his analysis of the problem being our preaching.  Among the fiercest critics was his former champion, Foy Wallace Jr.  But Wallace was hardly alone in his assault on Moser.  Moser suffered greatly from the onslaught and withdrew from the lime light for a period of time.

Living in Ardmore in 1937, the Great Depression was in swing, Moser returned to the book of Romans yet again.  He took about half of his journal for 1937 and poured his soul into it as he wrestled with Romans on a macro scale.  He outlined, organized and put down a miniature theology of the book of Romans in his journal.  These “Studies in Romans,” as he calls them, are the seeds of became twenty years later The Gist of Romans.

Moser had briefly commented on the state of preaching in The Way of Salvation (pp.107-108) and rather overtly critiqued preaching in a booklet called Are We Preaching the Gospel? published in 1937, which was endorsed by G. C. Brewer.  Moser’s booklet however grew out of his private wrestling with Romans. Perhaps reacting to the bitter sting from his former compatriots he minces no words.  They are worth quoting.

And, strangely enough and illogically, others look for ‘plans,’ and ‘schemes.’ [sic] by which to be saved. much [sic] is said and written of a ‘plan of salvation.’ we are told that Jesus died to give us a ‘plan of salvation.’ Just how much does the Bible say about a ‘Plan of Salvation.’ Is man’s Saviour a ‘plan’? What does the expression, ‘Plan of Salvation’ mean? If we are saved by a ‘plan,’ does this not make the ‘plan’ our Saviour? Is there LIFE [sic] in a ‘plan’ … IT MUST BE A ‘HARD SAYING,’ BUT THE ‘PLAN SYSTEM OF SALVATION WAS BORN OF A LEGALISTIC CONCEPTION OF CHRISTIANITY. [sic] Jesus himsel, [sic], God’s Son, Crucified for our sins is the only ‘plan of salvation’ possible and he is never so designated!”

The brotherhood had been duped into believing a “plan” was the Gospel which was nothing but legalism in Moser’s view.  Because we preached a false Gospel it is no wonder that we missed the boat on the Holy Spirit.  Romans had convinced Moser we are saved by a genuine Savior and God himself provided what was needed for Christians to live joyfully, vitally and as living sacrifices by his indwelling Spirit.  Moser would explicate these themes with gusto in his Gist of Romans published at the height of the dead legalistic controversy over orphan homes in 1957.

Moser’s heading for Romans in his 1962 American Standard Version New Testament

Romans is Dangerous: Three Necessities for Approaching Romans

K. C. Moser believed two things about Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It was extremely dangerous and it must be approached humbly. (When all is said and done Moser’s differences with his old compatriots is not a matter of semantics rather there is a fundamental difference at the very core. Christianity was primarily God centered for Moser and primarily human centered for his critics.)

In Moser’s Bible’s or Testaments he placed at the top of Romans this label,

“Posted” – Legalists Stay Out! (They do!!)”

Or

“Warning: Legalist Stay Out! (They do!) Enter at your own Risk.”

Moser placed this warning label on Paul’s epistle partly because of his own experience. Romans had radically changed not only his career path and his standing with his friends but also his conception of Christianity itself. Those who enter the book openly and humbly just may find themselves in hot water if the understand the book.  Moser offers three basic attitudes that he believes are essential for hearing the truth of Romans.

  • A disciple must be committed to truth. No more than that.  One can only approach Romans correctly if one “Loves the truth.”  As Moser notes, “Many who think they are strong devotees of truth are really only zealous of proving and propagating some opinion.”  For Moser “partisan spirit has no place in the study of truth.”  Only a passion for the truth and nothing but the truth can open one up to the challenging depths of Romans. No student should assume anything.
  • The corollary to a love for truth is the “willingness to sacrifice EVERYTHING” for that truth according Moser. Romans on its own terms will be hedged and domesticated unless we are willing to begin with the perspective that I am willing to embrace whatever it teaches no matter what, no matter who disagrees with it, no matter who agrees with it.
  • A student who would truly understand the radical nature of Romans, Moser believed, must “get read to deal with principles.” The principle of law, as Moser understood it (for Moser the term “law” is essentially synonymous with “legalism”) is antithetical to grace. Without coming to terms with the principles of Romans a person simply is “not prepared to teach Christianity.”

Some Moser Annotations on Romans

The fundamental teachings of Romans are sometimes either misunderstood or not understood by some who presume to be ‘teachers of babes’ and leaders of the blind.’”

Paul was a strong believer in the reality, guilt, power and condemnation of sin … Too little attention is given the fact of the reign or power of sin over the sinner and to a degree over the child of God.

Even many who profess to be Christians scarcely regard themselves as once sinners and justly ‘worthy of death’ and now redeemed from such a horrible reality as sin. ‘Becoming a member of the church’ with too many is little more than a social consideration or at most a protest against doctrinal error and denominationalism. They lack the consciousness, appreciation, and practical proof of a real redemption from sin and spiritual death.”

But the true conception of a Saviour appears difficult for many. Some prefer Jesus in other relationships than that of Saviour. For example, some prefer to regard him as TEACHER instead of a Saviour. Certainly our Saviour was a teacher, even the world’s greatest. But he is Saviour not primarily because he is our teacher … he is Saviour because he gave his life for us. He DIED to save us … there  is no redemptive power in teaching. Redemptive power resides in his blood or life which was given for us … Jesus ascended the cross to die for us in order that we might be saved. He did not ascend the cross to teach but to ‘give his life as a ransom’ for us.”

With many Christianity is a set of lessons to be learned, a list of rules to follow, certain qualities to be attained – all without divine help!!

Sin CANNOT be conquered by blue prints.”  (from his 1962 ASV New Testament)

“Law gives me neither feet nor hands; A better word the gospel brings. It bids me fly and gives me wings” (from his 1962 ASV New Testament)

Romans in Moser’s ASV Bible purchased in 1941

Romans’ Gifts to Moser

K. C. Moser was a Pauline Christian. Moser also had a “canon within a canon” and that was Romans, and to a lesser extent Hebrews, was his grid. But it was Moser’s theology of the cross that was the key for reading Romans, Hebrews and through them the rest of the Bible. Romans however was the book that changed his walk with God and determined the course of his ministry within Churches of Christ from 1925 to 1976. Romans provided Moser with three gifts of grace that became the warp and hoof of true New Testament Christianity.  These three are Jesus, the Cross, and the Holy Spirit.  I will quote from Moser on each of these three to wrap up this blog on Romans through the life of one radical man.

Jesus

Romans taught Moser that he has a genuine relationship with Jesus and not the church.  Jesus is the beginning, middle and end of our faith. It is he we look to, it is he we trust, it is he we love.  “Jesus = God’s MAN of salvation. God reveals his real character more by giving than by demanding.” So for Moser it comes down to Jesus,

I’ll take Jesus wherever I go,
He’ll uphold me, He loves me so
He’ll be with me unto the end,
For He’s promised me so

The Cross

At the Cross both the Father and the Son demonstrate in blazing glory their infinite love. At the Cross, Jesus actually saved us from sin and death. Jesus did not die to give a plan whereby we can save ourselves.  The Gospel, the message of the Cross, is the “power of God” and it was never transferred to a plan nor even to baptism.  So Moser writes,

The Cross: It has bowed men in gratitude
chastened them into penitence
wakened them to hope,
inspired them to devotion
and redeemed them from sin.”

The Holy Spirit

We end where we began, God’s indwelling Spirit. Romans taught Moser that God absolutely demands holiness on the part of disciples of Christ. But God demands holiness because he is himself holy and God cannot dwell with uncleanness.  The Holy Spirit actually and literally dwelling within Christians is the greatest of all graces next to the gift of the Son on the Cross.  God himself empowers his children to walk in the path of obedience and holiness through his own Spirit. God himself makes it possible to for us to be united in beautiful communion with God through his Spirit.  The key to being a Christian is God’s indwelling Spirit. A few words from Moser,

Let me suggest again that we ‘grieve not the Holy Spirit’ by refusing to recognize his presence (Eph. 4:30) … Christianity, brother, is not a cold, lifeless formalism. But a religion without the Spirit is dead … What a wonderful provision of grace! [is the indwelling Spirit] … let us gratefully accept  from God his seal of our sonship, and the earnest of our inheritance; and out of a consciousness of sweet fellowship and communion with God cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”

May the courage of Moser impel us to study Romans for all its worth.  May the “gifts of Romans” come to us as well.

Thank you Father for the ministry of K. C. Moser.

Suggested Links of Interest

K. C. Moser: Student of the Word

Alone in the Spirit and His Word: Reading K. C. Moser’s Bible

For Contemporary Exegetical Perspectives on Paul’s Letter to the Romans See …

Romans is Not Galatians! Welcome to the Most Jewish Letter in the NT: Assumptions and Surprises

 

10 Responses to ““POSTED – Legalists Stay Out!” K. C. Moser’s Journey with the Epistle to the Romans”

  1. Gail Newman Says:

    Thank you for this post. K.C. Moser is the great-grandfather of my children and he lived as he preached…spirit-filled, with joy, confidence, vitality and courage. I see these qualities in my children and am grateful to have known him.

  2. Michael Arena Says:

    What we fail to see in the church so often is that the Cross reconciled all mankind to God; not a select group who accomplished all the rules and rituals. Judgement will be about our relationship with God and man. All who are saved with be through Jesus, and as a result of His reconciliation sacrifice.

  3. Barbara Gibson Says:

    I was blessed to study under Bro. Moser and came to know the Lord through grace. What a blessing to not feel the bondage of legalism but live by His strength in me.

    • Michael Arena Says:

      Barbara: It’s refreshing to learn that others are not bound by legalism that has been a thorn in the side of the church for years. I hope you are still affiliated with the Churches of Christ. We need reformers, not separatist.

  4. Linda Sanders Says:

    I can’t believe that I was fortunate enough to be in his classes at LCC. What a gift and an honor to hear him speak and to learn from him. His teachings were so radical from anything that I had ever heard it has taken me a lifetime to unpack it and live it. But it’s true, Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Thank you Dr. Moser. May God bless you eternally.

  5. Dwight Says:

    Bobby, I am working by way through exactly this concept of not looking at the scriptures as a plan to be saved, but looking at the scriptures as God’s desire to have man come to him. God may have laid out things that “we must do” to be saved, but they are not where our salvation lays. Salvation is of the Lord. The point of salvation is Jesus, not faith or baptism or confession, even though we must have faith in Jesus, confess Jesus and be baptized into Jesus. One of the problems of the Jews was that they sought salvation and righteousness as a nation, but stopped personally seeking God. They had a zeal for the law, but not their brother who was made in the image of God.
    In the coC we need to preach Christ, the man and the God and Savior, not the plan. The responses comes after Jesus, but not before. Forgiveness comes from a forgiver.

    • Michael Arena Says:

      Paul said that he was determine to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). The problem in our church is that most ministers understand this, but are afraid to risk being dismissed for espousing anything that contrary to the established teachings.

      • Dwight Says:

        I don’t believe the problem is that preachers are afraid to go against the establishment, but that the preachers are the establishment and establish the doctrine. They are afraid to preach Christ as the point of salvation without placing baptism as the point of salvation, because this would go against years of debates where baptism is the point of salvation and go against a coC tenant of faith.

        • Michael Arena Says:

          You may be right about that, but what is the establishment if not the collective belief system of the church. I know that ministers such as Patrick Mead receive a lot of hate mail from other preachers, but this is the established doctrine lashing out. We resist change as a body because we are not sure of our own individual beliefs and want to be accepted by our peers. It will be a slow process to change all of our Pharisaical concepts, but we do need to be reformers and not separatist.

  6. Dwight Says:

    Michael, this is true in that the preaching is often a reflection of the whole system, but then again the preaching also creates and re-enforces the system. For those who step out of the system it is not pretty and thus preachers are not willing to do so without be disfranchised or marked by the majority. I remember our preacher at one point commenting, “sometimes I think we should just put “Christians meet here” and do away with the “church of Christ” sign” (which is reasonable and less denominational), but he was not willing to put forward something that would be different than what the system accepts. This despite the fact that many, if not most, in the assembly would be fine with doing that very thing.

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