10 Nov 2023

K. C. Moser’s Journey to the Cross

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church History, Grace, Holy Spirit, K. C. Moser, Precision Obedience, Restoration History, Romans, Sectarianism
K. C. Moser sitting on the steps of a schoolhouse in 1911 reading a book.

Today I want to share ten items about one of my heroes of the faith, Kenny Carl Moser (1893-1976). My own saga with Moser began with Jim Massey class on Romans in the summer of 1988. I did not learn anything about Moser in the class only that Jim recommended (but did not require) that we read The Gist of Romans. I read Gist of Romans but failed to appreciate it because my own legalism could not yet process it. A few years later, Leonard Allen’s little classic Distant Voices:Uncovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church in 1990 or 1991 and then John Mark Hicks 1992 lecture on Moser at Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis really spurned my interest.

What became merely an attempt to get to know him became something of an obsessive fascination. Trips to Abilene to meet his family (daughter Fran has been the picture of grace to me), trips to sift through jungles of vertical files, to giving lectures on him at ACU and the Christian Scholars Conference. Since then I have read every known piece of literature written by Moser. And discovered quite a few unknown.

I have come to believe that Moser’s pilgrimage is sort of a parable of the 20th century Churches of Christ as a whole, perhaps my own as well. Moser’s early ministry was on the fast track to stardom. He knew the right people and said the right stuff. He was selected to be the minister at a large church, Tenth & Francis in Oklahoma City on the recommendation of Foy E. Wallace Jr. He was positioned to be an “Editor Bishop” as he joined E. M. Borden as co-editor of the Harold of Truth.

But something happened in Oklahoma City. K. C. Moser underwent a theological “conversion” that changed his life and in so doing alienated the very people who had worked to put him on this path, namely Foy & Cled Wallace, E. M. Borden, and C. R. Nichol (among others). The center of this change was the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This led to all the other reevaluations in Moser’s theological orientation.

Kenny Carl Moser began his life in what has been dubbed the “Texas Tradition” (TT) stream of the Churches of Christ. The TT is best represented by R. L. Whiteside though Austin McGary, Foy E. Wallace Jr. and C. R. Nichol are in this track as well. Moser was squarely in this camp. Moser grew up in Texas and attended Thorp Springs Christian College sitting at the feet of C. R. Nichol.

After being personally recommended to succeed Foy E. Wallace Jr (by Wallace himself!) as the pulpit minister at 10th and Francis, a large congregation in Oklahoma City, in 1923; and becoming co-editor of the Herald of Truth with the well know preacher E. M. Borden, Moser began a subtle shift. The key to this shift for Moser was how to produce spiritually healthy Christians/congregation.

Up to this time Moser denied the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit worked and dwelled in Christians through the Word. By 1926 Moser was convinced that not only he but the brotherhood (at least the TT) was gravely mistaken. He began a series articles in the Herald of Truth on Romans focusing on the Spirit. But midway through this series Herald of Truth ceased publication and was purchased by the Firm Foundation. Among Moser’s first articles in 1926 in the Firm Foundation was the polite suggestion that perhaps the New Testament actually meant what it said that the Holy Spirit really did dwell in the children of God.

Moser’s suggestion, however, did not go unnoticed. He was soon embroiled in controversy. First with F. L. Colley. Then W. T. Kidwell who had tangled with James A. Harding on the Holy Spirit in 1906 and 1907 in the journal The Christian Leader and the Way.

By 1930, Moser’s entire theology of the Spirit had undergone what can only be termed as a “revolution.” Moser came to believe that the holy and indwelling Presence of God in the believer was as plainly taught in the Scriptures as anything that could be taught. Moser began to seriously wonder why the brother (at least the TT) would deny the indwelling and active presence of the Spirit in the life of a Christian. As noted, the Spirit was not merely some inert like substance in the Christian but the unseen but very active power of God in the disciple. The Holy Spirit did things to the Christian. So why? How?

K. C. Moser’s answer was legalism.

E. M. Borden (1874-1951) was Moser’s co-editor of the Harold of Truth. Borden preached a famous sermon, “Jacob’s Ladder,” in Neosho, MO in 1913 that would be preached in a thousand versions across the brotherhood. It later served as the basis of Moser’s critique of preaching. Moser suggested that God placed a cross, not a ladder, on Golgotha.

To deny a teaching so fundamental and blatantly taught in the Scriptures forced Moser to examine the foundations of everything he had received. And though he became synonymous with the “Man vs the Plan” idea, it is the doctrine of the Spirit that was the engine that drove Moser.

Sadly, Moser reflects typical attitudes towards the Hebrew Bible. But we are all products of our time more than we may care to admit. He had his blind spots as I do mine.

What follows will be Ten quotations from Moser that have not appeared in print anywhere to my knowledge (except two – one that I shared with John Mark Hicks for his 2007 LCU lecture). I share them because they are in a book on Moser that continues to evolve.

The quotations are illuminating in and of themselves. Some are from his Bible, some from his journals and some from a series of sermons he did that I discovered and some from old published articles. Moser was well aware of the power of conformity demanded by a so called nondenominational group where the rhetoric of biblical authority stays but the genuine authority is what “we” have taught.

1) “Making an honest investigation of the Bible PRECLUDES ALSO A SECTARIAN SPIRIT … Some men do not speak their convictions but as tradition give them utterance, for fear of being put out of the synagogue.” (Gospel Advocate, 1932, Moser’s emphasis).

2) “The doctrine of the indwelling Spirit is sectarianism!’ This is one of the commonest objection I have heard. If that is sectarianism, then that part of sectarianism is true. We should seek the truth, not seek to be different from others. The objection itself is begotten of a sectarian spirit of the rankest type” (Previously unknown book of sermons, Six Gospel Sermons published in 1935 which sort of represents the earthquake that separated Moser from his former cohorts).

3) “The doctrine of the indwelling Spirit is almost universally accepted by all who profess the Christian religion. Only comparatively recently has it been denied. I know of no reputable commentator who does not teach the doctrine. Indeed it is inconceivable how one can interpret Scripture according to its context and not affirm the teaching of the indwelling of the Spirit in the Child of God … Let me suggest again that we ‘grieve not the Spirit’ by refusing to recognize his presence (Eph 4:30) … let us gratefully accept from God his seal of our sonship … and out of a consciousness of sweet fellowshinp [sic] and communion with God, cry ‘Abba, Father.'” (Six Gospel Sermons, 1935).

4) The period of 1923 to 1930 was one of intense wrestling with the Scripture for Moser. A legalistic framework is what made the denial of the Spirit possible. Christ himself is the forgotten Man. So in 1929, Moser wrote a personal study of Romans in his journal. (I included this in my lecture on Moser at ACU). He writes on pages 87 and 89, “Strangely enough and illogically, others look to ‘plans’ and ‘schemes.’ [sic] by which to be saved. much is written and said of a ‘plan of salvation.’ we are told 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 MAY BE A ‘HARD SAYING,’ BUT THE PLAN SYSTEM OF SALVATION WAS BORN OF A LEGALISTIC CONCEPTION OF CHRISTIANITY. [sic] Jesus himsl, [sic], God’s Son, Crucified for our sins is the only ‘plan of salvation’ possible, and he is never so designated.”

5) The Cross became, for Moser, not simply a fact among other facts. Rather the Cross is the a theological hermeneutic by which everything is to measured by and interpreted in Scripture. This fundamentally reshaped Moser’s approach to the Bible. He writes, “The great fundamental fact of Christianity is the death of Christ for man’s sins. This doctrine must be accepted as true, first of all. All other doctrine must be interpreted in the light of this fundamental fact if it is to be understood. Then if we are to find the principle of our salvation, we must start with the atonement.” (1930).

6) Moser came to, rightly, reject the notion that worship was reduced to “five acts.” I will provide a couple quotes under this number. Moser is the first person I have found among “us” that reinterprets John 4.24, correctly I might add, as a reference to the Holy Spirit rather than “sincerity.”

Church of Christ in Enid, Oklahoma where Moser served as minister from 1947 to 1950.

“True spiritual worship is the intense exercise of the soul. It might be called spiritual ectasy [sic] or rapture…Cold formalism is wholly incompatible with the spirit of worship. John said, ‘On the Lord’s day I found myself rapt in the Spirit’ (Rev. 1:10). Worship ‘in spirit’ involves the influence of the indwelling Spirit.” (World Vision 14.10 (Oct 1948), 12.

In an undated manuscript sermon Moser goes straight to the book of Revelation (an unusual hermeneutical step in his day) to teach Christian worship.

“No religious exercise is more common than what is termed WORSHIP. But what is called worship is not real spiritual adoration of God and of Christ. Worship is a word of very definite meaning. It means adoration, praise, profound reverence. Where these are lacking worship is impossible … But why do we worship God and Christ? The answer is easy: God and his Son should be worshipped [sic] because they are ‘worthy’ of worship [at this point KCM strings together quotations from Revelation 4.11; 5.9; 5.12; 5.13 then commenting on them he continues …] The impact of a spiritual understanding of the above scriptures is most impressive. Read them; study them; meditate upon them – and then worship God and Christ! … But God and his works must be ‘considered’ before one can be prepared for worship. To rush into ‘worship’ and ritualistically perform the DUTIES of singing, prayer and eating the Lord’s Supper is to make a mockery out of worship. Real worship is deep emotion, and many are afraid to manifest any feeling at all lest they be like someone else. But we are to strive to worship God, not to be unlike others! Real Spiritual [sic] worship is joyous, Spiritually [sic] stimulating, and edifying. Nothing can take its place.”

7) If the doctrine of the Cross is Moser’s theological hermeneutic then the book of Romans is his “canon within a canon.” Moser had a habit of buying small New Testament’s frequently on an annual basis and he would read thru them and scribble all over them. It is very enlightening to trace his commentary on various passages in successive years. The heading he wrote to Romans in his 1962, American Standard Version New Testament is …

“WARNING! Legalist, Stay Out!
(They do!) Enter at Your Own Risk.”

C. R. Nichol (1876-1961) wrote, with R. L. Whiteside, the important series of books, Sound Doctrine, vols 1-5. Moser had recommended volumes 1 and 2 prior to his reorientation.

8) In Moser’s Bible that he carried for many years (rebound in 1963 for 8 dollars!) He inscribed a note at the end of Galatians. The note is undated but has to be from around 1962 as he mentions a then current controversy in the Firm Foundation regarding the “Man vs the Plan” (inspired by Moser’s own booklet Christ vs The Plan published in 1952).

“Our so-called Restoration Movement is doomed to fail because it is based upon a legalist concept of Christianity. Many of the younger generation of preachers are ‘fed up’ on legalism. Right now the Firm Foundation and the Gospel Advocate are fighting for ‘the PLAN of Salvation’ as against God’s MAN of salvation. It is everywhere obvious that those who preach the “Plan” have little use for the Man, grace and faith.”

9) What is fellowship and how is it determined? After 35 years of being blacklisted, being anathematized by former friends and brethren (especially the Wallace’s), Moser was convinced something besides doctrinal conformity was at the root of genuine Christian fellowship. He writes on Saturday, March 31, 1962 in his journal …

“The principle of personal responsibility tries one’s soul. One naturally desires to BELONG. But with whom can one HONESTLY BELONG? Not with those who espouse principles that logically make void the cross of Christ. The mere claim to belonging to the ‘Church of Christ’ while at the same time preaching a doctrine that make his Cross only a means to an end, is a most superficial basis for recognition. There is such a thing as ‘Fellowship of faith.” With me, this is fundamental. I can have real fellowship with him who shares my trust in Christ as my sinoffering and in none other. If this means ‘excommunication” then I will have to learn to endure it. “Excommunication” by man is not so bad as divine displeasure.”

10) I finish with an appeal by Moser written in 1930 to his brethren to remember Jesus as the expression of God’s love. When we learn to “see Jesus” we have truly embraced Christianity.

“There is danger always of forgetting that it is Jesus, the personal Jesus, who is Savior … He died for Me! ‘Who loved me, and gave himself up for me!’ The thought is almost overwhelming. To think the Lord’s infinite love is personal!

“What an appeal to the sinner! What a drawing power! Sinner, go to the cross alone; stand beneath its shadow and behold the ‘lifted up Christ.’ Remember the shame of the cross. Behold the suffering, and believe it is for you! And as you stand looking up to the suffering and dying lamb of God repeat the words of Paul, ‘Who loved me and gave himself up for me!’ …

“But this appeal of the suffering and dying Saviour [sic] is not to the sinner alone. The Christian can never forget it. Just as he was drawn to God by the personal love of Christ, so by it he is kept close to him and faithful in his service. Paul never forgot God’s love toward him.”

Related Articles

K. C. Moser: Student of the Word

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

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

C. R. Nichol’s God’s Woman: Gospel Advocate Writer Says Women can Pray and Teach … in Church!

2 Responses to “K. C. Moser’s Journey to the Cross”

  1. Larry Murdock Says:

    K.C. Moser’s name was mentioned by a friend (I have forgotten the connection) in 1991 or 2. My friend had recently moved from Lubbock, TX. Along the way I have known of Moser’s name but never the “controversy” nor the ferocity that it must have stirred. So, your article is interesting. Some day perhaps I will learn of what he thought about the phrase “the faith of Christ” that only appears in the KJV. In my view, the whole world misses the point if they miss the point of “the faith of Christ.”

  2. Johnny D. Hinton Says:

    Larry, have you consider the possibility that the phrase the faith is a synonym for the gospel. Paul elsewhere calls it the faith of the gospel. I do not accept the notion that it was Christ’s faith. However, it could be the faithfulness of Christ.

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