18 Dec 2018

Christmas Confession: Frustration Mingled with Hope

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Christian hope, Church, Grace, Hermeneutics, Patternism, Precision Obedience

I am frustrated. I admit it.

For many years I have felt that Churches of Christ as a whole have been moving forward biblically and Spiritually. The legalism that I grew up with in North Alabama seemed like it was dying. We talked about God’s astonishing grace more and confessed the role and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It seemed like many congregations were more racially  integrated than ever. And it seemed that we began to see the Gospels and Hebrew Bible as more integral to the faith and mission of the church than previously. Many of these positive steps forward were reflected in my own life.


But recent events have shown me I may have been wrong in my perception. This is what I see:

While indeed there are many congregations and ministers who have moved to a healthier, more integrated, understanding of the whole Bible, and believe the Holy Spirit of God is active in the life of the church, and a retreat from legalism and sectarianism; there has been a corresponding hardening not only of former positions but taking up even more extreme ones than before.

Sadly the dispensational hermeneutic, we heirs of the Stone-Campbell Movement have inherited, remains parasitic on both “progressives” and “conservatives” in Churches of Christ. Many “out Campbell, Campbell,” on this. Yes, Alexander Campbell delivered his famous, or infamous, “Sermon on the Law” and essentially guts the authority of 76% of the Bible.  The Sermon had unintended consequences that Campbell would not endorse but even sought to steer us clear from. 

You see Campbell, in spite of his dispensationalism,  still believed the Hebrew Bible shaped, and was foundational, in every sense of the word for Christian theology. That is the doctrinal content of the “Old Testament” determines the shape and meaning of “New Testament” doctrine.  Campbell even states that his Sermon was his most juvenile effort. Campbell, unlike many of his descendants, did not reduce Christian doctrine to ecclesiology (especially its forms, structures and “identity marks” of the church). One gets a much better view of Campbell’s grasp of the sweep of the integrated scope of Scripture in his 1833 mini-biblical theology called “Regeneration.”

But today, the moment you say 2 Timothy 3.16  means the Hebrew Scriptures are good for doctrine some one replies “you are not satisfied with the Christian dispensation and the law of Christ.” OR they say “So when are you going to start offering animal sacrifices?” As if these retorts actually have merit. They are pure ignorance I am sorry to say.

Why you ask? Because it assumes that one comes to any text in the Bible across the massive historical gulf naked and immediately. The authority of the Hebrew Bible is not diminished because we must approach it hermeneutically.

These naysayers do the exact same to the New Testament, that is they interpret it. Not one of them comes to the NT a single subject without a hermeneutical grid, even if they deny it. There is no “one to one” correspondence. Not one of these folks, who make such quoted statements (actual ones btw), can dispute this.

Do these naysayers “share all things in common” (Acts 4.32-37)?
Do they forbid speaking in tongues?
Are they eager to prophecy? (1 Cor 14.39)?
Do we gather in councils to decide what the will of God is (Acts 15)?
Do they “enroll the widows?” (1 Tim 5.9ff).
Do their elders anoint the sick with oil (James 5.14)?
Do they contribute to the poor saints in Judea (Romans15.25-29; 1 Cor 16.1-2)?
Do they make women wear veils in public worship (1 Cor11)?
Do they break bread in homes daily (Acts 2.42)?
Meet in the temple? (Acts2.46)?
Do they lift up holy hands in prayer as was commanded (1 Tim 2.8)?
Do they allow the preacher to appoint elders (Titus 1)?
Do they greet each other with holy kisses (Rom 16.16; 1 cor 16.20; 2 Cor 13.12; 1 Thess 5.26; 1 Pt 5.14)?

You see, not one of these folks practice these things that are “plainly” written the text. Whether good or bad hermeneutics, they INTERPRET these New Testament texts as not applying in the “literal” import of the language. So if this is true of the New Testament, why is it not true of the Hebrew Bible.

But such statements, as quoted, show graphically how little genuine reflection on the text is done. It is simpler to dismiss the text, than wrestle with the text. Simply because sacrifices are done in the Torah does not imply that we are to. Because Paul commands the Corinthians to aid the poor saints in Jerusalem does not mean that is a command to us. In truth Campbell’s views were far superior, and nuanced, than those that are paraded among his descendants. Campbell believed that even the very Greek of the New Testament had “the soul of Hebrew” because the Apostles were so in debt to the language and thinking of the Septuagint (see his Preface to the Living Oracles).

The Bible is a single, unified, narrative and one cannot simply cut off76%, and claim to respect 2 Timothy 3.16 … it is a game of deception called bait and switch. We bait you with this classic text that affirms the authority, not merely the divine origin of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, etc and then SWITCH its referent to something that did not even exist when the verse was penned – the New Testament. Oh then deny it actually affirms the genuine doctrinal authority of those very Scriptures Paul grew up with. Hermeneutically we can apply that text to the New Testament but Paul himselfdid not mean that.

The Gospels 

I have spoken mostly about Hebrew Bible above but the same dispensational extremes are being embraced about the Gospels themselves. The teaching of Jesus is not directly related to Christians because he lived before the “new covenant came into effect.” The Living Word is not directly applicable to how we do Christianity in this view.

Sounds like heresy just writing it out.

This view has so many things wrong with it that it would take a book to point them out. However one immediate problem is that it misses the point of why the Gospels exist in the first place. Many folks think the Gospels are something like evangelistic tracts. That is written to address nonbelievers to prove to them that Jesus is the Messiah. But that is not why the Gospels were written at all. The Gospels are written as instruction TO THE CHURCH. This is so obvious in Matthew, for example, that it boggles the mind that one can even entertain that false view.

Jesus once said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to ME.” He did not say it was given to a book. How the book functions WITH the authority of Jesus we need to wrestle with.

Salvation by Precision Obedience 

Extremes are articulated and promoted that we did not have in the 80s. Salvation by “precision obedience” is just one example. This new doctrine was initially promoted around the end of the 1990s and has gained ground in some prominent corners of Churches of Christ.

This is pure false doctrine. The irony is beyond the pale. The purveyors of this view decry Martin Luther for “adding” to the text the word “only” so we are saved by “faith only” rather than just faith. These folks do not teach one must simply be “obedient” to God but but have inserted the word “precision” obedience.  

I cannot tell you how revolting this is. I am not objecting to the mere addition of the word “precision” but to the theology that affirms salvation is contingent upon laser like perfection. It is nothing but works salvation of the grossest sort. Not only is it the case that no text implies much less says, but it flat out contradicts the entire teaching of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Faithfulness to God is not a claim to having fulfilled God’s commands “precisely.” I have no problem with singing “trust and obey” … simply trusting faith, yielding itself to the best of its ability to God is my sacrifice. The doctrine of salvation by Precision Obedience breeds sectarian arrogance and extremes. A few people whohold this view claim – unbelievably – to hold K. C. Moser in high esteem. I have read every known published and nearly everything Moser did not publish and can say that Moser would quickly brand this as a doctrine of hell. Just saying.


More extremes. I have numerous brothers who have told me that women reading Scripture or serving communion in the assembly is not actually forbidden by Paul, even according to the traditional interpretation of 1 Cor 14.34-35 and 1 Tim 2.8-15. LaGard Smith has stated this both in print and lectures.  Yet these brothers then go on to forbid, and draw lines of fellowship over things they admit are not forbidden. Why?

Stop being so condescending to women brothers! If the Bible does not in fact forbid women from doing these things even according to your interpretation, then why in the name of reason would you have so little respect for the word of God that you forbid what you say Paul did not forbid? Get in the pulpit, get in the Spiritual Sword, get in the Gospel Advocate and write clearly and forcefully that our practice towards women is more restrictive than Paul commands. Write that women can and should be “allowed” to participate in the assembly beyond occupying space.  Be the place where “new creation” reigns! 

I used to be more tolerant than this until my own daughter (after this being explained to her btw) stated “don’t you think that is degrading?” The degradation was forbidding her what you yourself admit she is permitted to do! It is almost – not it is – a matter of integrity. If you hold the traditional view and you admit that it does not forbid women serving communion and yet you forbid it you are self-condemned. Matthew 23 is written all over that man made doctrine. But this is binding of what is admitted as not God’s word is among the extremes today.

Sectarianism is alive and well. I will tell you my own theory of why these brothers do not state clearly and forcefully what they admit … FEAR!! They are afraid. It is easier to succumb to the denominational pressure.

I lament the times. I also rejoice in the advances of God’s Spirit among us. Oh for the courage for Stone and Campbell …  

I could go on with my confession offrustration but my coffee is now gone … 

10 Responses to “Christmas Confession: Frustration Mingled with Hope”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Bobby, many of the problems of which you speak have to do with separation…not between people, but between context…the context of what we place things in.
    If we followed what we preach as far as following examples and inferences, then we would be holding our assemblies in our houses and then we would be having our Lord’s Supper around a table, where the women would naturally be serving. But because we are in a building, which resembles a Temple (in purpose) we must now have the men acting as priest to serve in our functions. The Temple likeness of our church buildings demands a Temple like service in form and function.
    This Temple likeness also aids our “precision obedience” theology in that we must do church “right”.
    But the early saints did church right by becoming saints, not by ritual or ceremonial adherence.
    Col.3:16 and Eph.5:19 was not written to church group, but to people not as law, but as a spiritual encouragement. Worship was not a matter of law, but a matter of love and heart.

  2. Dr. Al Huba Says:

    Thank you Bobby: As a Messianic congregational leader it is refreshing to hear solid hermeneutics from a “denominational” perspective. Please get a bigger coffee cup! Shalom.
    Rabbi Al Huba
    Beit Tikvah Messianic Congregation

  3. Tim Brinley Says:

    May you enjoy a Merry Christmas. I find my boiled coffee with Terebinth, Orchid root, Cardamom, and Pine gum can take the sharp edge off ;-). You know I agree with all of the General principles you espouse here even while I occasionally have issue with your conclusions. I found this statement curious. Could you elaborate?

    Campbell believed that even the very Greek of the New Testament had “the soul of Hebrew” because the Apostles were so in debt to the language and thinking of the Septuagint.

    Since the Septuagint is in Greek, you must mean something beyond what First meets the eye. It seems like if the Apostles were quoting directly from the Hebrew it would much more convey this.

    As far as communion passing, reading scripture, announcements, and prayers, I’m all with you on this, but of course you go way beyond this elsewhere – whether or not you yet practice it. Shalom brother from the other California 🙂

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Tim, the Greek of the LXX is a very Semitic flavored Greek. Read the intro to BDAG or any other good work on NT Greek. It carries more Hebraic meaning than classical Greek. This is extremely important.

  4. Tonia Hoefner Says:

    “Be not dismayed!” Thank you for your insights, commentaries, research and study; thank you for fighting the good fight and continuing to learn and passing your learning on through your writing. I learn from you and appreciate what you are doing. Merry Christmas and may 2019 be a blessed year for you and your family!

  5. kay selover Says:

    i always find it sad (cuz it hurts) when people start or contain in their essays comdenation of an entire denomination or religion, as a whole. it’s most typical that everyone’s experiences are not the same. and within any one congregation you will have differing ‘opinions’ & understandings. i believe that satan wins every time a writer lifts up his/her thoughts by condemning a religion, denomination and/or Christ followers, in general. learning/revelation is wonderful and inspirational when it is given lovingly.

  6. Michael Arena Says:

    It’s hard to type on a phone. I was trying to say that God has always only had one religion. Chistianity is simply the fulfillment of his discourse with us.

  7. Michael Arena Says:

    We have gotten the purpose of our assembly wrong from beginning. Our assembly should be viewed as a support group session. We contrived the doctrine of the 5 acts of worship to support our belief that God was requiring a strict pattern of worship to him. The synagogue is a good example of how He accepts an unauthorized assembly, i.e. one without scriptural authority which we esteem as upmost importance. We are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, which is our reasonable act of worship.

  8. Dwight Haas Says:

    I do believe you have it right.
    The irony is that within the church we make the statement that the Law of the Jews and the rituals/ceremonies that went with it died and yet we resurrect it in every “worship service” by ceremonially doing the Lord’s Supper in a building that basically acts as a Temple in that it was built for and is to only be used for the worship of God by people that ritually do the same things in the same order.
    Go figure.

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