11 Nov 2020

2020 Confession: Frustration, Extremes, Fragmentation

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Uncategorized

I am frustrated. I admit it. For many years I 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 grace more and the role of the Spirit in our lives. It seemed like many congregations were more ethnically integrated than ever. And it seemed even that we began to see the Gospels and Hebrew Bible as more integral to the faith of the church than previously. Many of these positive steps forward were reflected in my own life. (It was as if wholesome fruit was being bore from Leonard Allen’s great book The Cruciform Church).

But numerous events over the last ten years or so have shown me I may have misread the signs. This is what I see now.

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

Dispensationalism: Hebrew Bible & Gospels

Sadly, the dispensational hermeneutic we have inherited is something that is 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. This has had massive unintended consequences that Campbell not only would not, but did not, endorse. You see Campbell still believed the Hebrew Bible shaped (in fact it was essential) Christian theology. He 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 and structures). 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” (a statement that was said to me by another preacher). Or they say, “So when are you going to start offering animal sacrifices?” (another statement said to me by a preacher). As if these retorts actually have merit. They are truthfully extremely misinformed and misguided, I am sorry to say. In fact often just bringing up something from the “Old Testament” will find the retort, “that is the Old Testament,” or “we are New Testament Christians,” or “we are not under the Old Testament,” etc. Some even apologize for teaching something that comes from the Hebrew Bible.

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. Not one of them comes to the NT on any single subject without a hermeneutical grid, even if they do so unconsciously. There is no “one to one” correspondence. Not one of these folks, who make such quoted statements (actual and not made up 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 (Romans 15.25-29; 1 Cor 16.1-2)?
Do they make women wear veils in public worship (1 Cor 11)?
Do they break bread in homes daily (Acts 2.42)?
Do they meet in the temple at the hour of sacrifice? (Acts 2.46)?
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)? [Etc, etc]

You see, not one of these ministers do these things that are “plainly” written the text. In fact they would likely condemn anyone who did any of those things just listed.

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 above show, graphically, how little reflection on the text is done. It is simpler to dismiss the text, (in this case the Hebrew Bible) than wrestle with the text.

Simply because sacrifices are done in the Torah does not imply that we are to. Simply 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 many of 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, and in Christian System he says that if we are to understand the NT properly we need to approach it through Moses. Campbell will say, “Paul was a Hebrew, and spoke in the Hebrew style. We must learn that style before we fully understand the apostle’s style. In other words, we must studiously read the Old Testament before we can accurately understand the New” p. 231).

The Bible is a single unified narrative and we cannot simply cut off 76%, 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 and divine origin 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 they 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 himself did not mean that.

I spoke mostly about Hebrew Bible just now but the same 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 Gospels are “BC” or as some put it “MMLJBC.”

In this perspective nothing before Acts 2 is directly for the church. It is an extremist version of Dispensationalism. In it the Living Word, Jesus, is not directly applicable to how we do Christianity. 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. But Jesus once said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to ME.” He did not say it was given to a book or the epistles. How the book functions WITH the authority of Jesus we need to wrestle with.


Extremes are articulated and promoted that we did not have in the 80s. Salvation by “precision obedience” is just one example. This new man made 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 precision obedience 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. It is nothing but works salvation of the worst sort. Not only does no text say, or imply, this 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” … simple 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 who hold 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

More extremes. I have numerous brothers who have confessed to me that women reading Scripture, or serving communion, in the assembly is not actually forbidden by Paul (even according to the their 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 the very things they claim are not forbidden. [I do not know any that have the courage to stand in front of the FHU open forum and say “brethren we hedge Paul and chain women beyond what is actually written! Is that not what the Pharisees did? Build hedges to protect the law? The slippery slope is noting but Pharisaic hedges.]


Stop being so condescending to women brothers. If the Bible does not in fact forbid a woman 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 beside sitting.

I used to be more tolerant on 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 – no 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 15.9 and Matthew 23 is written all over that male [literally] 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 privately … fear! They are afraid. It is easier to succumb to the denominational pressure.

I lament the times. I could go on with my confession of frustration but my coffee is now gone …”

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