The Incoherence of the Conservative Position, Part 2

by Jay Guin

It’s time to take a position

At the beginning of our dialogue, Greg and Phil agreed to begin by stating their position on apostasy and then defending it. Months later, we don’t have even a statement of a position — other than the one we wrote, that Greg and Phil agreed to (with one exception noted by Phil), and that Mac immediately contradicted in several ways. It’s unfair to ask us to accept a position that changes every few paragraphs.

We understand that our questions may have led Mac and Phil to rethink their views. If so, that’s fine. We just wish they’d let us know what their position is now.

  • As we agreed at the very beginning, please state your position on apostasy succinctly and in terms that you can consistently argue from. If Mac and Phil have different positions, please note the differences or, if necessary, provide separate statements.

Incoherence of the conservative position

Mac’s position dramatically shifts throughout his post. If the conservative view of apostasy were true, we’d think that after over a century of advocacy, it would be simple to state the position and defend it as stated. And yet, our conservative friends can’t do it.

As Todd demonstrated to great effect in his book Facing Our Failure, the conservative thought leaders have never stated a position that is consistent with their other teaching. That is, as quickly as a conservative states a doctrine of apostasy, he contradicts it — just as Mac has done here. And this fact amply shows the incoherence of the conservative points of view.

Of course, the position is also incoherent in an entirely different sense: it creates a standard that no one can meet. Phil and Mac stipulated,

5. Once a Christian is lost for doctrinal error, he cannot be restored until he repents by no longer teaching the error, believing the error, or practicing the sin that error has led to.

6. The standard for doctrinal error is the same as for moral error. Both damn (subject to points 2 and 3) until repented of by the Christian who, consequently, ceases to commit that sin.

Under item 6, all sin (doctrinal or moral) is charged against the Christian — damning him — until he repents of that sin. Therefore, we’re all damned unless as to every single sin we ever commit (including sins of omission) —

  • We are actually aware that we committed the act.
  • We are actually aware that what we did was sinful.
  • We’ve repented of that sin.
  • We no longer commit that sin.

For the mature Christian, this means that only those who are sinless are saved. We’d be far better off if we were still under the Law of Moses!

Mac seeks to limit the obvious problem with his position by saying,

Can a man maintain faithfulness to God while imperfectly walking in the light? If he is in the light, he is in the light. I do not quibble over human weakness.

Okay. Mac admits that we don’t have to be perfect to walk in the light. But he also declares that moral error “damn[s] until repented of by the Christian who, consequently, ceases to commit that sin.” How can Mac have it both ways? I don’t see it.

Mac’s and Phil’s position seems remarkably close to the Wesleyan doctrine of “entire sanctification,” that is, a Christian can gain such a level of maturity that he no longer sins, with only the occasional mistake due to human weakness.

And, of course, Mac and Phil assume that all Christians eventually attain a perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine (at least doctrine that relates to our obligations) so that the Christian may be held accountable for any doctrinal error at all that would lead to sin. Again, it’s an impossible standard — and one that Mac fails to uphold. After all, he concedes that even teachers — who are held to a higher standard — might teach error that leads to sin and still be saved, depending on the state of their hearts.

Mac responds to this by asserting that converts should be adequately taught —

However, let us begin by saying that people need to be properly taught before they are baptized. Rushing people into the water with improper and/or inadequate instruction is not scriptural.

And so, whereas the Biblical practice is to baptize immediately upon coming to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and penitence (that is, after the first 4 of the 5 steps), Mac urges that a more comprehensive instruction set “must” be provided.

Third, the prospect must be informed with regard to “pure positive” duty. This category of responsibility is different from moral obligation. Faith in Christ, repentance, confession, and baptism are all “pure positive” (rather than moral) obligations. Some of his Christian duties would be pure positive duties as well. In other words, the sinner must understand that he must be faithful following baptism with regard to Christian duty.

“Pure positive” is a term of art in theological circles and refers to obedience that is separate from natural or moral law. I’m sure Mac is thinking in terms of how to worship and how to organize a church as classic examples of “positive law” in conservative teaching.

And so, the 5 steps of salvation, going back to the missionary work of Walter Scott, has now been re-written to include not only: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized; but also, learn how to worship, how to organize a church, and where necessary, be taught moral instruction.

Mac can claim a long history of support among those denominations that insist on a comprehensive catechism before baptism — such as the Catholic Church. What he cannot do is find support in the history of the Restoration Movement.

As Alexander Campbell wrote,

Every such person is a disciple in the fullest sense of the word, the moment he has believed this one fact [that Jesus is the Christ], upon the above evidence, and has submitted to the above mentioned institution [baptism]; and whether he believes the five points condemned, or the five points approved by the synod of Dort [dealing with Calvinism], is not so much as to be asked of him; whether he holds any of the views of the Calvinists or Arminians, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, or Quakers, is never once to be asked of such persons, in order to admission into the Christian community, called the church.

Much more importantly, we don’t read in the Bible about prospects delaying baptism for an extended series of lessons on moral and pure positive duties. Rather, they are baptized as soon as they come to repentance and faith.

In short, the whole conservative position doesn’t hold together. It’s self-contradictory, and it fits neither the scriptures (as we’ll show in the following posts) nor the needs of fallen, imperfect humans (as is obvious). And neither is the conservative position consistent with the founding principles of the Restoration Movement.

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22 Comments on “The Incoherence of the Conservative Position, Part 2”

  1. Jeff B. Says:

    A question for the commenters: How do you think this discussion is going so far? Note that I’m not asking whether you agree or disagree with the positions of the writers. I’m asking who is doing a better job of making and defending his point.

    I’m especially interested in hearing an assessment from my conservative brothers and sisters so that I can know if I’m being as objective as I think I am when I conclude that Jay and Todd are doing a much better job in this discussion. If you think that Mac and Phil are doing better, I’d be interested to know what particular points Jay and Todd have failed to respond adequately or be clear on.

    Mac is known throughout the conservative churches as being one of the finest debaters around. He has often been able to win debates based more on his ability as a debater than on the strength of his position. That he is being so soundly defeated in a debate says to me that his position is faulty, for I know it is not due to a lack of polemic ability.

  2. Royce Says:

    The idea that non Christians should be taught Christian disciplines before they trust Christ is the oddest thing I can imagine. There is not a hint in Scripture to support such nonsense.

    In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite. Those who are not Chistians do not have the aptitude for spiritual truth. (1 Corinthians 2:14) Spiritual truth is foolishness to the unsaved person.

    I think the reason a guy like Mac would teach such a thing is that he, and many of his conservative counterparts, see Christianity as almost purely mechanical. They believe men are saved and kept saved by “doing”. They mouth the obligatory “we are saved by grace through fath” but their own words prove they don’t believe it.

    Royce

  3. Rich Says:

    Dear Jeff B.,

    May I suggest that all of us should form our conclusions based on what God says in His scripture rather than the online debating skills of any human.

    Jay is very skilled at written persuasion. As a lawyer, he has honed these skills over the years. Another tactic I have seen in the courtroom from other lawyers is to take a quote or testimony and spin it and/or extend it beyond the original intent so that it comes across wrong or at least confusing. I’ve seen this done here as well. I suspect that if Mac or Phil change what they say, they are in reality changing the way they communicate their position but aren’t actually changing their belief. Again, Jay is very skilled in persuasive communication and I don’t fault him for using those skills.

    I don’t know Mac so I’ll accept your assessment of his debate skills. A live debate relies on quick thinking and connecting with the audience. Neither of which are available in this blog format. Such are some of the differences between oral and written communication.

  4. laymond Says:

    Royce said; “They believe men are saved and kept saved by “doing”.”
    Royce is the following good sound advice, are are we to just ignore it?
    Jn:8:31: Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
    Jn:15:9: As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
    10: If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

    what about this warning is it still valid ?
    Rom:11:22: Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

    1Tm:4:16: Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

    Royce does this say we have no part to play?
    please decipher these scriptures for me.

  5. Jeff B. Says:

    Rich,

    Of course we should form our conclusions based on what God says. Did you read my post when I said: “Note that I’m not asking whether you agree or disagree with the positions of the writers. I’m asking who is doing a better job of making and defending his point.”

    I’m not asking people whether their minds are being changed or not. I’m simply asking for others’ assessment of the debate thus far. I appreciate your assessment.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you believe that Jay and Todd are coming across better, but you think this is because of some disingenuous maneuvering and sophistry on Jay’s part. Is that a fair summary of your view?

  6. Royce Says:

    Laymond,

    Not once ever have I said, or even hinted that good works are not important. What I have consistantly said is that we are not justified by them.

    John 8:31 Is on of the clearest that supports my position. Those who do what Jesus commanded are saved and those who do not do those things are not saved.

    Good works do not save, they show who is and is not saved. Men are only saved on the basis of Jesus and his work for sinners and not on their own goodness.

    Why is that so difficult to understand?

    Every person who is truly born from above will do good works, will follow Jesus the best they can, will walk in the light. Not one person who is only a “make believer”, a Christian impersonater, will do good works. Christians are created to do them.

    If I believed Jesus was not who he claimed to be, that there was no real resurrection, then I too would set out to justify myself.

    It seems to me that over and over again you show by what you write that you have more confidence in yourself than in the Christ who alone can give eternal life.

  7. benwiles Says:

    As for who’s “winning” so far, it’s still too early to call. We have seen Jay’s skill at taking apart a position, pointing out its inconsistencies, etc., but we have yet to hear his side actually present and defend a case.

    Let’s see the bottom of the inning before we crown a champion.

  8. dell kimberly Says:

    The most disturbing factor in this discussion to this point is the failure of Mac and Phil to take a position and consistently adhere to that position. I do hope that as this discussion continues we can know where the position of Mac and Phil actually lies.

  9. D'Angelo Joyce Says:

    Question:

    What causes a child of God to be lost?

  10. D'Angelo Joyce Says:

    Question:

    What causes a child of God to be lost?


  11. D’Angelo I am not sure what point you are attempting to present but I will make an attempt to answer your question. A child of God is lost when the sins of that individual is no longer covered by the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ no longer covers Christians who are no longer in God’s grace.

  12. D'Angelo Joyce Says:

    Kimberly thanks for your response. When are a persons sins no longer covered by the blood of Christ? Can we know? Can we conclude that a person no longer walking in the light is not cleansed any longer? (I am not here saying that a person who stumbles is not walking in the light).

  13. Royce Says:

    Do you folks believe anything Jesus taught? Was what He said true or false. Is He to be believed or ignored?

    It is almost like he is no more important in these discussions than Peter or Paul.

    This is a fact! You will not discover God’s truth by beginning with church of Christ dogma, or your designer theology, and working backwards with it as your foundation of faith.

    God has made the truth about what He has done to set sinners right with himself that even little children can understand it. No one is so blind as those who refuse to see.

    Royce


  14. When a child of God no longer seeks to follow God he is no longer covered by grace or blood. In several places Scripture points to the fact that we can “reject God”. When our heart no longer seeks to follow God there remains no more sacrifice for our sin…dell kimberly

  15. benwiles Says:

    “Do you folks believe anything Jesus taught? Was what He said true or false. Is He to be believed or ignored?

    It is almost like he is no more important in these discussions than Peter or Paul.”

    If Jesus is to be believed, that must include believing what His apostles said. After all, one of Jesus’ promises to the apostles was to stand behind their words.

    If we think Jesus was wrong to trust Peter and Paul to speak for Him, it’s not the apostles we’re criticizing.

    Jesus trusts them. Why can’t we?

  16. Rich Says:

    Jeff B.,

    I don’t want to use the word ‘disingenuous’. Jay is well studied and I assume has good intentions. My guess is he is so accustomed to using multiple means of persuasion in his profession that he believes he is legitimate.

    I believe I can see through it.

    At the moment, I don’t see any winners. I not moved by either side at the moment.

    I do appreciate the opportunity to view and comment on the dialogue.

  17. Rich Says:

    Royce,

    You said, “The idea that non Christians should be taught Christian disciplines before they trust Christ is the oddest thing I can imagine. There is not a hint in Scripture to support such nonsense.”

    Jesus clearly taught in Luke 14:26-33 that we must “count the costs” before following him. We can debate exactly what it precisely means, but if we aren’t helping people understand the Christian life and it’s impact on the person prior to becoming a Christian we aren’t following Jesus.

  18. Jerry Starling Says:

    Rich,
    You wrote: “Jay is very skilled at written persuasion. As a lawyer, he has honed these skills over the years. Another tactic I have seen in the courtroom from other lawyers is to take a quote or testimony and spin it and/or extend it beyond the original intent so that it comes across wrong or at least confusing. I’ve seen this done here as well.”

    Oral debaters are also skilled at doing the same thing. Mac has done the same thing here as well.

  19. Jay Guin Says:

    Rich,

    There is a difference between advising a convert of the cost of discipleship and demanding that a potential convert have the right position on the issues as a condition to baptism. I am quite confident that the Phillipian jailer understood the cost — his teachers had just been in prison because of their faith. I doubt seriously that he’d been instructed on all “pure positive” commands in the New Testament before his baptism.

  20. Jay Guin Says:

    Rich,

    If I’m using means of persuasion that are illegitimate, what are they?

  21. Rich Says:

    Jay,

    Please accept my apologies if I have given the impression you are outside of any explicit or implied rule of debate. You are well within any guidelines.

    I may be over reacting to the standard debate tactics that are happening. I think the progressives are declaring a bigger gap than actually exists, at least on the repentance and apostasy issue.

    Some of the initial posted comments gave me the impression that people were not filtering out tactics from substance, but later comments seem to indicate many are. That’s a good thing.

  22. nick gill Says:

    Royce,

    Many of us believe EVERYTHING Jesus taught — including his teaching on apostasy. Your consistently-stated position denies the very existence of apostasy, and you suggest that the position you extrapolate from Scripture offers greater security than the position extrapolated by our “conservative” brethren. I cannot for the life of me see the practical difference where security is concerned.

    The “conservatives” believe that while a person might be truly named a Christian, only God reallyknows whether they are saved.

    Your position says that while a person may believe themselves a Christian, they might at any point “fall off the wagon” (so to speak) and discover they were never a Christian at all!

    Neither position offers any assurance to me, right now. Mac and Phil might say, “Nick, maybe you’re saved. Maybe you’re not. Only God knows.” You might say, “Nick, maybe you’re a true believer. Maybe you’re not. Only God knows.”

    I believe you’ve read enough of my writing at Fumbling and in comments around the blogosphere to know I’m no “conservative.” I see no security in either position (either the conservative position currently being defended or the position proposed by Royce and a couple of other brave souls). I look forward to Jay and Todd’s position.

    My question for the sovereignty brethren, and/or the “God’s promises can never fade” brethren, is much like Tom Cruise’s question for Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men:

    If “God wills that all people come to repentance, and God’s will is always done, why aren’t all people repentant?”


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