Archive for April 2009

The Repentance Requirement

April 27, 2009

by Todd Deaver

Phil argues that doctrinal error is sin, just as moral error is sin, and the only way a Christian can be forgiven of sin is to repent. Furthermore, in his discussion of repentance Phil says that “Grace teaches correction (Titus 2:11-14); one may not continue in moral or doctrinal error.” He goes on to ask, “How can the misled, deceived, sprinkled infant say he has faithfully repented in later years, if he does not correct the situation with an immersion?”

In Phil’s view doctrinal error is not forgiven until the erring believer repents, and the erring believer has not repented of his doctrinal error until he corrects it and embraces the truth on that point. So no matter what the error might be, persistence in it eventually becomes fatal: “There comes a point when God’s patience has an ending; and there comes a point when we must discipline the person caught up in error.”

But is it true that a Christian has not repented unless he has ceased believing the error? (more…)

Advertisements

Exegesis of Texts Cited in “Proposition One Response from Phil”, Part 3

April 26, 2009

by Jay Guin

Conclusion: How God saves people despite imperfect doctrine

Throughout my childhood I was taught that I could not be forgiven of a sin until I confessed it, repented of it (by no longer doing that thing), and prayed to God asking for forgiveness. I naturally concluded that I was only forgiven while asleep — because each night I prayed for forgiveness for that day’s sins as I drifted off to sleep. I mean, I knew about “sins of omission” (Our preacher loved preaching on sins of omission), and I saw no way that I could ever be guiltless of those except for the moment after my prayer.

And the next day, I committed some of the same sins again. Sometimes it was because I didn’t even realize that what I was doing was wrong. Sometimes I just wasn’t as good as I wanted to be. And so I concluded that I wasn’t forgiven for those sins at all.

And I couldn’t even ask for forgiveness perfectly. Sometimes I was rude or hateful but unaware of my sin until later reproached by the person I’d offended. And who knows how many sins I’ve committed unaware that were never brought to my attention.

I found myself unable to precisely catalog my daily sins so that I could confess them, much less repent of them. And I doubted the sufficiency of the rote prayer “forgive me of all my sins” when I’d not confessed or repented of those sins. I felt surely damned.

It wasn’t until college, in a class on Romans taught by Dr. Harvey Floyd, that I finally realized that I’d been deceived. Of course, I should continue to try to do better, but I learned that the standard was not perfect confession or perfect repentance. Nor was my salvation dependent on having prayed for forgiveness the moment before my death. I learned for the first time that I am saved by grace.

However, for many years, I still struggled with whether the standard is higher for doctrine. Must we get all the rules right to be saved? Eventually, it occurred to me. As Phil said in Proposition One Response from Phil: “error is equated in God’s eyes with sin.” And that means that doctrinal sin is forgiven on the same terms as any other sin – by grace, for penitent believers.

I find the principle in such verses as –

(Heb 10:13-14)  Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Those who are “made perfect forever” are those “being made holy” — those whom God is still working on but hasn’t yet made perfect. The point is that we are saved (“perfect forever”) because we are growing in Christ — not because we’ve perfected our doctrinal understanding.

Or consider —

(2 Pet 1:5-10)  For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall … .

If you grow in the virtues listed in vv. 5 – 7, “you will never fall.” It’s not that we have perfect faith or perfect love; it’s that the direction of our lives (as baptized, penitent believers) is toward God.

Of course, if I’m rich in faith and goodness, then as I become aware of my mistakes and failings, with God’s help, I’ll work on them to continue to grow in faith, but my salvation is shown to be sure by my growth in these very virtues, not by how well I’ve mastered the laws of general and specific authority.

Of course, as a penitent believer who loves God and submits to Jesus as Lord, I study to learn God’s will because I delight in his teachings and because I want to please him by submitting to them. Grace is not license to sin, and the penitent wish to grow in Jesus. But because I’m not yet through growing in Jesus, I’m not yet through making mistakes — nor will I ever be.

But what if someone — a preacher, an elder, a writer — charges me with sin and I disagree with him, finding his reasoning flawed? Am I still penitent if I refuse to accept the accusation?

The frivolous answer is that it depends on whether he is right. I mean, the most prominent leaders within the Churches of Christ can’t agree on everything! How on earth am I to be held accountable for which one (if any) has the true interpretation? Which periodical has the final authority? Today’s Gospel Advocate doesn’t agree with all that it wrote 30 years ago. It sure doesn’t agree with much of what David Lipscomb wrote. Which editorship is the final authority? It’s a hopeless way to seek salvation.

This is not the same case as Peter rebuking Simon Magi, because no one living today is an apostle. If an apostle rebukes me, I must submit to his authority if I’m penitent (1 John 4:6). If an uninspired man rebukes me, and if I honestly disagree with his doctrine, I may be wrong, but I’m still penitent.

Fortunately, the scriptures don’t speak in terms of my getting all doctrines right as a condition of my continued salvation. That’s not what “repentance” means. Yes, I absolutely should care enough about God’s word to study to try to learn all I can from it. And I should certainly take seriously those who try to teach me better. But my critics aren’t my judges. Only God is. And he has already judged me “perfect forever” because I’m in the process of being made holy.

Exegesis of Texts Cited in “Proposition One Response from Phil”, Part 2

April 26, 2009

by Jay Guin

Repentance

Phil writes,

Repentance is always a qualifier. Those who repent of moral sin can find forgiveness, and those who repent of doctrinal error can also find forgiveness. Time plays a part in this. 2 Peter 3:15 reminds us to regard the patience of the Lord as salvation. God does not want anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance, and this included those who were caught up in falsehoods in 2 Peter 2. …

I do believe in patience with people, giving them time to grow and learn. Peter notes that we should regard the patience of the Lord as salvation (2 Pet. 3:15).

Patience, however, is granted so that people will come to repentance and not perish (3:9). Some who were untaught and unstable were distorting the Scriptures “to their own destruction” (3:16). Peter said, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (3:17-18).

2 Pet 3:15 is not speaking of patience with those in doctrinal error, but God’s patience as to his return.

(2 Pet 3:3-4,9-15)  First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” …

9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

Verses 9 and 15 certainly seem to be saying that God is delaying Judgment Day in hopes that all will repent — not that God’s patience with all doctrinal error is limited. And the “repentance” mentioned in v. 9 isn’t speaking to repentance from all doctrinal error but the repentance that leads to salvation (v. 15) — and all Christians have repented, or else they never could have become Christians (Acts 2:38).

In his commentary on 2 Peter 3:9, Coffman writes,

A viewpoint on this verse (including v. 12) which is ancient, reaching all the way back to Ecumenius, was quoted by Macknight thus: “The time of the end is deferred, that the number of them that are saved may be filled up.”

Phil writes,

God desires all to repent. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 says:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Again, the meaning of the verse is found in the meaning of “truth.” “Truth” is what allows people to escape the snare of the devil. “Truth” is what opponents of the Lord’s servant need to know. “Truth” is the gospel.

Phil writes,

Grace teaches correction (Titus 2:11-14); one may not continue in moral or doctrinal error. How can the misled, deceived, sprinkled infant say he has faithfully repented in later years, if he does not correct the situation with an immersion?

Here’s the text he is referring to —

(Titus 2:11-14)  For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Yes, without a doubt, Christians are called to live righteously. But it is the gift of Jesus that redeems us from all wickedness and purifies us. Notice the irony:  grace teaches us to be godly, but it’s grace that makes us fully godly. We can’t complete the work ourselves.

(Titus 3:4-7)  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Should we strive for righteousness? Absolutely. Will we ever achieve it? No. God’s grace teaches us to be godly people — to deepen and further the repentance with which we began — but it does not impose on us the burden of either doctrinal or moral perfection.

Phil writes,

Should a person repent of error, God grants forgiveness.

There’s no verse cited. Let me suggest one: Acts 2:38.

(Acts 2:38)  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Notice what “repent” means in context. He’s not saying “stop all sin and doctrinal error.” Rather, he’s saying “turn from your old ways to the way of Jesus.” And notice how the word is used in Acts –

(Acts 3:19-20)  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you — even Jesus.

(Acts 5:31)  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.

(Acts 11:18)  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

(Acts 13:24)  Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.

(Acts 17:30)  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

(Acts 19:4)  Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”

(Acts 20:21)  I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

(Acts 26:20)  First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

In each case, “repentance” is speaking of a change in the direction of one’s life, not eliminating all sin from one’s life, or even some particular sin, with one exception —

(Acts 8:22)  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.

In this case, Peter is imploring Simon Magi to repent of wanting to make a profit on the Holy Spirit. Obviously enough, if my life is turned toward God and I’ve submitted to Jesus as my Lord, when I become aware that I’m guilty of sin (such as when an apostle tells me to my face), if I’m penitent, I’ll work to repent of the sin, now that I’m aware of it. (Of course, some sins are easier to repent of than others – some require time to overcome.) That hardly means that I’m required to repent of error that I’m not even aware of as a condition to remaining saved.

I’ve just read every verse in the New Testament mentioning “repent” or “repentance.” I don’t see a one that says only those sins repented of by no longer sinning are forgiven.

The factious man

Phil writes,

Paul said that we should “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Tit. 3:10-11).

Absolutely.

“Factious man” is from the Greek hairetikos, meaning  a divider. The King James says “heretic,” which isn’t a translation but a transliteration. In modern English, “heretic” means a false teacher, but the original meaning is someone who divides. Thus, modern translations use “divisive person” (NIV), “factious man” (NASB), or “person who stirs up division” (ESV), for example.

Many among us equate “factious” with “in error,” but it’s a false equation. I can be wrong and not divide. I can be right and divide. If my brother is in error on the fate of the saved between death and the Judgment, and if I treat him as damned, I’m the divider because I’ve divided a saved person from the body of Christ.

Exegesis of Texts Cited in “Proposition One Response from Phil”, Part 1

April 26, 2009

by Jay Guin

Phil cites numerous texts to demonstrate his view of repentance and God’s patience in “Proposition One Response from Phil.” In this post, I’ll review those texts to see whether they truly support the points made.

I apologize for the length of this post, but we are now covering some of the central passages in the case for the conservative position. We need to study them closely.

To keep each post to a readable length, I’m posting this in three parts.

Galatians

Phil writes,

Galatians 1:6-9 and 5:4 are sufficient to show that doctrinal error can lead to eternal damnation. Those who are in error are misled by a lie, a falsehood.

It is true that those passages show that certain doctrinal errors can damn, but they hardly show that all doctrinal errors damn.

(Gal 1:6-9)  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Obviously enough, not all Biblical teaching is “gospel.” The warning here is against teachings that pervert the good news. We sometimes err by trying to hang the label “gospel” or “faith” on any teaching that we believe is a scriptural truth — but “gospel” is about Jesus being Lord and Messiah (= Christ).

Paul defined “gospel” succinctly in Romans —

(Rom 1:1-4)  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

The gospel is the gospel “regarding his Son” incarnate and resurrected. I’ll not attempt a comprehensive definition here, but surely if we are saved by accepting the gospel, it’s what we have to hear, believe, and confess to become Christians: “Jesus Christ our Lord.”

(Gal 5:4-6)  You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

The Galatian heresy was seeking justification by means other than faith in Jesus.

These passages are not about doctrinal error regarding the role of women or instrumental music. Such teachings are not “faith” nor are they “gospel.” You see, “faith” in the New Testament is faith in Jesus.

Liars

Phil writes,

God will punish all liars (Rev. 21:8).

This passage certainly pronounces damnation on liars, but Greg’s post “Talking Past Each Other” gives a powerful lesson from Carrol Ellis (a delightful, dearly missed man who married my wife and me at Otter Creek many years ago) about how God forgives liars. Of course, God doesn’t forgive all lies, but he does forgive some. Thus, the question becomes, not whether someone lies, but whether someone is forgiven.

Blindness

Phil writes,

What some are calling “mistaken,” the Bible calls blind (Matt. 15:14; 2 Cor. 4:4). Being blinded does not keep people from falling into the pit. …

Jesus spoke clearly to the Pharisees, who went beyond the Scriptures with their oral Torah, in Matthew 15:6-9, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

Jesus makes this observation about the Pharisees and man-made doctrines in Matthew 15:13-14: He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” False doctrine can indeed cost the souls of both the deceiver and the deceived.

In Matt 15:14, Jesus declares the Pharisees “blind guides” after they challenged him for allowing his disciples to eat food with unwashed hands (vv 1-2). What was the Pharisees’ sin? They added a command that God did not make.

The Pharisees were trying to win God’s approval by being safe. After all, a devout Jew would become unclean if he touched a Gentile, a corpse, a menstruating woman, or many other things. In a dry, dusty country, the dirt on a man’s hands could have come from any number of unclean sources. Eating with dirty hands might put unclean dirt inside the man! (And who could deny that washing before you eat is a commendable practice?) Surely, the Pharisees reasoned, this would be wrong. But Jesus condemned them for adding to God’s law.

It’s an important lesson in hermeneutics — on the danger of adding commands that God did not make himself — but it hardly teaches that all error damns. Rather, the condemnation is for arrogance in thinking you honor God by building fences around the law.

(2 Cor 4:4)  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Certainly this passage warns us of the penalty for being blind, but “blind” refers to someone who is blind to the gospel and so is an unbeliever. Of course, all unbelievers are lost. That hardly shows that a disagreement over any point of doctrine damns. He’s speaking of what one must believe to be saved.

“Truth”

Phil writes,

Paul’s discussion of the apostasy with the Thessalonians has some mysteries, but he notes that those who do not love the truth are vulnerable to a “deluding influence so that they might believe what is false” (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Belief in the false and lack of love for the truth are matters of salvation.

I’ve just posted a five-part series at www.OneInJesus.info called “What is Truth?” on the meaning of “truth” in the New Testament.

In these posts, I explore the meaning of “truth” in nearly every New Testament passage that uses the word. I undertook this study because many of the “truth” passages are classic conservative proof texts, by which many conservatives argue that error in, say, instrumental music denies the “truth” and so causes one to fall away. That’s not how the New Testament writers use “truth.”

The short answer is that “truth” means the truth about Jesus and is often used as a synonym for gospel. Understanding this radically changes our understanding of many verses.

(2 Th 2:9-14)  The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. 13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In context, “truth” is what you must love and believe to “be saved.” And those who have not “believed the truth” are condemned.

Paul is not addressing any and all true teachings found in scripture. He’s speaking of what we must believe to be saved. And so, yes, as Phil wrote, “Belief in the false and lack of love for the truth are matters of salvation,” but not just any truth or any falsehood. It’s just the Truth who is Jesus (John 14:6). Reject the gospel and, yes, you are lost.

Aren’t Some Errors Covered by Grace?

April 25, 2009

by Todd Deaver

The answer Greg and Phil have given (see my last post, “Phil’s and Greg’s Position on Apostasy“) is by no means unusual in Churches of Christ. You don’t have to search long in our journals and books to find this position repeatedly and emphatically expressed. But there are, I believe, some serious problems with it. (more…)

Phil’s and Greg’s Position on Apostasy

April 25, 2009

by Todd Deaver

In his post, “Talking Past Each Other,” Greg quotes Jay’s statement clarifying what he understands Greg’s words “in danger of divine judgment” (see “The Lord Will Judge His People“) to mean. Jay says, in part,

We take the phrase to mean that God is patient with his children. Error does not necessarily immediately damn, but for certain errors (not all errors), God will at some point lose patience and damn.

Greg was unwilling to accept this interpretation without making this important change:

One emendation, however, is in order. It is my conviction that no error fits into the category of perpetual indulgence. Error is to be opposed, not accepted. (emphasis added)

Since the context was the question of which errors lead to apostasy, I take Greg to mean here that no error can be perpetually believed without endangering the believer’s salvation. In other words, although God will patiently bear with one’s doctrinal error(s) for a time, he will–after the disciple has had sufficient time to grow and learn better–eventually withdraw his grace no matter what the error happens to be. (more…)

Apostasy Lists by Leaders Among Conservative Churches of Christ

April 24, 2009

by Jay Guin

On April 10, 2009, I wrote,

Really? You see, the thing is: I already have lists and lines of salvation aplenty. My bookshelves sag under the weight of checklists written by Daniel Sommer, David Lipscomb, H. Leo Boles, Thomas Warren, Bert Thompson, Goebel Music, etc., etc., etc. My conservative brothers have never been reluctant to draw salvation lines or offer checklists. They don’t agree with each other on just which doctrinal errors result in apostasy or why, but they do seem to agree on the drawing of lines and making of lists.

All I ask from Greg is the scriptural basis for his own published checklists. …

Greg’s checklists

Greg has published articles in which he lists certain doctrinal errors that damn (cause apostasy, cause one to fall away). I’m sure these aren’t intended as complete lists.

In response, Greg challenged me,

While Jay’s assertions are rhetorically nimble, they suffer from a lack of accuracy. I take exception to his claims on two fronts.

First, I challenge Jay to produce the checklists he asserts have been composed by the men he names. I cannot say that none of these men ever composed such a list, but I have never seen a list of this nature among our people.

I’m happy to provide the requested lists. I think we can learn several important lessons from them. But I need to make this one thing clear. As I said in my post, “I’m sure these aren’t intended as complete lists.” My assertion is that Greg’s list is of a kind with many other similar lists published by his conservative forebears. None of these lists is intended by their authors to be complete.

After all, the very nature of conservative theology is that you can’t make a complete list, as there’s no end to the doctrinal errors that can make one fall away–nor have our leaders come up with a way to make consistent lists. The following review of our history of list-making should serve to demonstrate the truth of that point. (more…)