SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES


THE CRUX OF THE MATTER: FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS

GARY W. SUMMERS

   

The December 2000 issue of The Christian Chronicle contains a special insert, titled "Restoration 21: Challenges and Realities." The fourth of these pages shows church membership dropping in the past ten years by about 21,000 members. Interestingly, Christian College Enrollment has during that same time period increased from 18,247 to 22,800. A more pertinent statistic might tell us how many of "our students" are attending "our colleges." Unconfirmed reports has indicated that "our schools" have ever-increasing numbers of non-Christians attending, which could indicate that fewer and fewer brethren retain any confidence in those institutions; most colleges have deserted the ideals of those who founded and established them.

This insert mentions a forthcoming book, titled The Crux of the Matter: Crisis, Tradition and the Future of the Churches of Christ, written by Jeff W. Childers, Douglas A Foster, and Jack R. Reese and published by the Abilene Christian University Press. Certainly this fact will inform the reader what kind of fare the book presents, since ACU has been at the forefront of apostasy for several years now. And the fact that The Christian Chronicle is publicizing this book should tell the reader something about that publication.

The writers of the book attempt a historical analysis of the churches of Christ with a view toward explaining how we got to be where we are. Their conclusions are doomed from the start because of their own prejudices and assumptions which they do not even have the skill (or the desire) to hide. Consider their description of the "church of the Fifties":

We were the ones who had a biblical name, a biblical organization, and a biblical hermeneutic. We had the right understanding of salvation, worship, the Holy Spirit, the millennium, Bible classes, and church cooperation. We were the New Testament Church (18).

Amen. Obviously, the authors of this forthcoming book have "grown" beyond this description, but some of us still believe what was true then is true now. But there is a reason we have not changed our minds: The conclusions we reached fifty years ago were the result of decades of previous intense study of the Word of God tested repeatedly in the forum of public discussion. No religious group has invited more scrutiny over their teachings on salvation than we have. That which we taught and continue to teach is the unassailable truth.

The positions of Childer, Foster, and Reese (by contrast) are academics working in an environment where there is continual consensus and validation of each other's views. How many debates have they had? When have they put their views up for public challenge?

We do understand Biblical hermeneutics. Our worship is Scriptural. Do we know everything? No. Do we still have disagreements on certain issues? Yes. But we agree that the names by which we designate ourselves should be Biblical. We agree that there is but one Gospel--one plan of salvation; we believe that Truth exists and that God expects us to be in agreement on it (John 17:17, 20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10). We certainly are wise enough to know that man-made denominations are not the Lord's church. And we know that premillennialism is not a New Testament doctrine.

The authors say we assumed that "right understanding" of the Bible would lead to "the right practices and doctrine" (18). Well, we certainly never thought that wrong understanding would lead to right practices. Yes, we believe what Jesus said when He told His disciples, "If you continue in My word, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). What the writers of this forthcoming book refer to as assumptions are truths taught in the New Testament. Evidently, they do not believe that: a) Truth exists; b) Truth can be understood; or c) Truth is important. Jesus affirms that Truth does exist (in fact, He is the Truth, John 14:6), that we can know it, and that it is important. If Truth is not important, then Jesus is not important, and the fact that He is the only Savior of mankind who died on the cross for the sins of the world is not important.

This assumption, they continue, "led some to argue...that other groups not believing or practicing the things we did were not going to be saved" (18). Imagine that! How narrow-minded we must have been. God commands baptism (immersion) for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), and we had the nerve to conclude that "sprinkling" or immersion for some other reason was wrong! Would we have done better to have assumed a blase attitude and let them go unwarned to the judgment?

"This view of ourselves in relation to other groups was potent fuel for evangelism" (18). Yes, it was, and when we decide that everybody's going to heaven, there will be no need for evangelism. We may as well kick back with the television remote firmly grasped and rejoice in the devil's doctrine of universal salvation.

Next the authors of this "thoughtful" analysis want to give three reasons that this "pillar of exclusivism" began to crumble.

First, more and more of our members felt uncomfortable with what was, at times, a rigid, judgmental, and even mean-spirited view of others. This attitude did not square with what we were reading in Scripture. Judgmentalism and legalism didn't seem to reflect the spirit of the New Testament, the character of Jesus, or the teaching of Paul (18).

We would all have been disappointed if we had not been called rigid, mean-spirited, judgmental legalists. They left out Pharisaical, but maybe it will find its way into the book. This is the approach that liberals (both political and religious) always take--resorting to calling names. Of course, they never see that, in calling others by these names, they are being judgmental. When a person has a position to uphold, he offers Scriptures as evidence; when he has nothing substantial to say, he calls names. Was Jesus legalistic when He warned the disciples about the doctrine of the Sadducees and the Pharisees (Matt. 16:12)? Was He judgemental when He affirmed that some only practiced religion to be seen of men (Matt. 6:1-18)? Was He mean-spirited when He called the Pharisees "serpents" and a "brood of vipers" (Matt. 23:33)? [By the way, He did not just call them these things; He explained His reason for doing so.] Why, then, are Christians today, who believe and teach the same teachings that the Lord did, referred to in such unflattering ways?

Is it mean-spirited to tell someone (in a religious denomination) that he is lost? If so, it is just as bad to say the same thing to an atheist. After all, it might hurt his self-esteem. Most people think they are fine, whether they are very pious, have just a little "religion," or none at all. The Gospel must first and foremost show people that they are lost before it can do any good. If we act as though everybody is all right, there will be no motivation for anyone to change, and the gospel will become irrelevant. It is true that these truths could be communicated in a mean way, but that is not the issue; "the crux of the matter" is whether or not anyone should be taught, period.

Second, "our study of the Scriptures began to call into question some of the conclusions we had reached in earlier decades" (18). Really? What?

Third, as we began to move out of our isolation and have real dialogue and relationship with people from other religious groups, many of us were astonished to see demonstrations of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Some of them seemed to evidence more Christian virtues than many of us. How could this be, if they had not come to the right understanding of the truth as we saw it (18)?

Read this paragraph again, for this is truly "the crux of the matter." The faulty assumption is that denominational people have the fruit of the spirit and thus must be saved; the truth is that they have the appearance of the fruit because they have followed the teachings of the Word of God with respect to those things. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and when people follow them, they are better for it. Many denominational folk have given up being immoral because the Scriptures teach against it (Jesse Jackson being the exception). The fact that many live a purer life does not prove they are Christians, either.

This is nothing more than the philosophy of Max Lucado, as espoused in an article he wrote eight years ago: "A Dream Worth Keeping Alive: Liking the Fruit But Not the Orchard." Lucado also saw people who possessed the characteristics of Galatians 5:22-23, and he too wrongly concluded, "Why, they must be Christians." Who knows what will happen if he meets a patient Buddhist? In keeping with the spirit of this age, the means of determining who is a Christian has passed from objective criteria to subjective--from "Has he obeyed the gospel" to "Does he seem nice?"

The objective approach to salvation, in other words, works this way. We study the Bible and determine what it says about the means of salvation. It teaches that, in addition to the grace, love, and mercy that God offers, we must respond in faith, repenting of our sins, confessing His Deity, and being baptized for the remission of our sins (John 8:24; Luke 13:3; Mark 16: 16; Acts 2:38). The blood of Christ then washes away our sins as we are baptized (Acts 22:16, Rev. 1:5).

None of these things were invented by us; we simply recognize that the Scriptures teach them. With this objective standard we can determine who is and who is not a Christian. Those who have responded to God's plan of redemption as set forth above are Christians; those who have not are not. Are we being judgmental? By no means. If we wanted to measure a floor for new carpet, we would take out a tape measure or yardstick to gain the knowledge we seek. We want an objective standard that all can recognize. If someone stood nearby and said, "I sincerely believe the room is 15 by 12," would we agree with him, even though the tape measure recorded 12 by 10? Would we say, "I have always known you to possess the fruit of the Spirit; therefore, I will take your word for it regardless of the objective standard we have"? Such would be absurd, but it would be no worse than throwing out God's objective definition of a Christian.

We live in an age of "I think" and "I feel" rather than an age of "Thus saith the Lord." Society's subjective emphasis has infiltrated the thinking of those who claim to be members of the body of Christ.

The writers claim that young people are "leaving Churches of Christ and the values and practices of the Stone-Campbell heritage..." (18-19). Here is another faulty assumption of the authors. Our "heritage" is the New Testament. We have been pointed in the right direction on some matters by Luther, Zwingli, Campbell, and others, but they are not our "heritage." This very statement presumes that we are a denomination founded by these men, and nothing could be further from the truth. All of them respected the New Testament and told us to abide by it, and that is what we have done. For that reason we do not agree with Luther, Zwingli, Campbell, or Stone on many of their ideas. Their own thinking underwent changes at various times. Our intention has always been to study the Word of God, not for the purpose of upholding someone else's ideology, but to discern what the Truth is.

The authors say they desire to go back to the Bible and reaffirm the truth of baptism for the remission of sins and of the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, but at the same time they are "repulsed by the spirit of exclusivism" (19). What can this indecision possibly mean? Is it not comparable to saying, "I know I should stay with my wife, but that's so legalistic"?

The Upshot?

The conclusion of all the thoughts expressed in this proposed book is confusing at best. It sounds as though the authors are still calling for a new hermeneutic--or perhaps a new and improved hermeneutic, since the last one (whatever it was, if there was one) has led to all the confusion we now have. They close by calling all "to address difficult issues with an irenic spirit" (19). One thing we definitely know: Elijah will not be participating in the "dialogue." He blundered terribly by not having an "irenic spirit" amongst the 450 false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). Micaiah will not be invited. This poor stick-in-the-mud refused to speak the same message that the king's flunkies mouthed. Paul will likewise be absent; he was just too mean-spirited to get along with Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:16-18). John disqualified himself too by acting in an almost hostile way to Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). Jesus once overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, those who were perverting religion; so much for His irenic spirit and ability to dialogue meaningfully!

God is exclusive! This may come as a shock to our modern world, but the vast majority of people are going to be lost! Jesus said that only a few would find eternal life (Matt. 7:13-14). Why? Does God not love people? He absolutely does. Nothing else could explain His extreme patience with us. Does Jesus love us? How else can the crucifixion be explained? The love of God is beyond question. The sacrifice of Jesus is the highest ever offered. Does God want men to be saved? Of course (2 Peter 3:9)!

The problem is not the love or will of God; the problem is the love and will of man. Man consistently refuses to comply with God's terms; he wants to do it his own way. If God says, "Bring me a blood sacrifice to atone for sin," man brings a bloodless offering. Not many have the attitude of Noah, who simply DID what God said (Gen. 6:22). God did not invite us to dialogue with Him; He invited us to obey Him. How many people say, "I know what the Bible says, but..."?

The church is not having an identity crisis; those of us who have remained faithful know who we are and what we stand for. Not all young people are leaving the church; in fact, we are quite inspired by the talented, intellectual, and loving group of those coming along who are committed to Truth (not to the Stone-Campbell Movement). Truth is timeless. Men's opinions come and go. We can pray that those who read The Crux of the Matter will see the shallowness and indecisiveness of the "scholars" writing that book. Being inclusive is not New Testament philosophy. Neither is the idea: "We are right, but nobody else is wrong." We profess to believe the Truth; if we are wrong, let them show where we are wrong (name-calling will not suffice). If we are right, then why compromise?

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "THE CRUX OF THE MATTER: FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS (2/4/01)."


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