Falling from Grace: Seeking to be Justified Other Than by Faith

We’ve gone halfway around the world to make a point.

You see, being penitent and being led by the Spirit all lead to the same place — a devout life of love and fruits of the Spirit. It all ties together in a perfect, beautiful unity.

But there is a very real concern here. Paul says that if you add any law to the gospel as a condition to salvation, then you’ve made yourself accountable for every law as a condition to salvation, and thereby you’ve fallen from grace. Thus, there’s no apostasy in insisting on worshipping a cappella or insisting that instrumental music is acceptable. But declaring that all who worship with an instrument are outside the church and therefore damned may well cause one to fall away. That’s not to say that there is no error possible on the instrumental music issue; only that the error does not cause one to lose his soul — provided he continues in his faith and faithfulness/penitence.

Understand that being wrong and being lost are two very different things, and we sometimes get them confused. If being wrong damns, then there is no grace and Christ died for nothing.

You see, in teaching that certain doctrines other than the gospel are essential to salvation, we’re effectively saying that to be saved, you not only must hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized, you must also join a congregation with a scriptural name, with a scriptural organization, and with a scriptural pattern of worship. Thus, if your home church has an elder who might not be properly qualified, or your church does something in worship that might lack authorization, you must change congregations or else lose your soul! I know Christians who have left their local congregation and take communion weekly at home rather than risk damnation by joining an unscriptural Church of Christ.

I fail to see how insisting on these rules as conditions to salvation is any different from insisting on circumcision as a condition to salvation. Either way, you’re insisting on obedience to a law in addition to the gospel. The gospel is meant to take us away from legalism, and the imposition of any rule as a requirement for salvation—even a single morally neutral rule—beyond the gospel is a return to legalism and damnation.

As the Churches of Christ have more than amply proven, legalism breeds division and bitterness. Which of all the divisions we’ve suffered has ever been fully healed? Which fight proved to be worth the cost? What verse in Scripture more pointedly speaks to the Churches of Christ than Galatians 5:15?

If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Does this mean that most members of the Churches of Christ are lost? It’s a fair question. And it’s not inconsistent for me to question the salvation of those who’ve added to the gospel while I simultaneously urge us not to condemn one another over the many issues that divide us. After all, Paul is quite plain in declaring that adding to the gospel makes the gospel “no gospel at all” and that his readers have “fallen from grace” and have been “alienated from Christ.”

But nowhere does Scripture deny salvation to those who worship with an instrument, or speak in tongues, or create a missionary society. Even if such actions are unauthorized, it’s an impermissible leap to go from “unauthorized” to “damned.” We should be silent where the Scriptures are silent.

Fortunately, Galatians does admit of a different interpretation. For example, in Galatians 3:26-27, Paul declares that his readers are “all sons of God.” In several verses, he calls his readers “brothers.”

Paul does not consider his readers lost—yet—but urges them with the strongest words and greatest passion possible to turn from an extraordinarily dangerous path.

But Paul squarely condemns the false teachers. Perhaps the key verses are —

(Gal. 1:8) 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!

(Gal 5:10) I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.

And Paul declares that his readers are in real jeopardy of hellfire if they don’t turn away from this error—

(Gal. 5:2) Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.

(Gal. 5:15) If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Nowhere else does Paul write with such fervor, with such urgency, with such fear for his readers’ souls.

I am not qualified to judge the fate of those among us who teach modern equivalents of circumcision, and less so to judge those who’ve been deceived by such teachers. I only know that having become aware of the problem, I must speak out and call for repentance—urgently—desperately, out of love, not condemnation—out of concern for souls.

It is not enough to be less legalistic than the church down the road. It’s not enough to be less legalistic than you used to be. There is only one gospel, and it won’t admit of any additions at all. Nothing is required to be saved or to stay saved other than the gospel. Those who teach otherwise have been cursed by Paul in the most unambiguous terms. I pray daily for the souls of my brothers and sisters in the Churches of Christ.

Please, let’s stop biting and devouring each other and learn to accept one another just as Jesus accepted us.

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17 Comments on “Falling from Grace: Seeking to be Justified Other Than by Faith”

  1. Alan Says:

    Understand that being wrong and being lost are two very different things, and we sometimes get them confused.

    Amen.

    I suspect that many conservatives would agree in principle that a person who remains a penitent believer and lives true to their confession that Jesus is Lord is saved. But I think they would also say that a person who does not respond to “correct” teaching on one of their key issues is therefore not remaining penitent and not living true to Jesus being Lord. Of course that view doesn’t leave room for honest disagreement, at least on their key issues. What seems obvious to one person is not always obvious to another.


  2. Thanks for the thoughts. It is amazing but it appears the more we learn the less we know. Praise God for His love and grace. May His Spirit continue to dwell in us as we continue in fellowship with Him and one another.

  3. Ed Boggess Says:

    Hi Jay,
    I have been following your logic as best I can and commenting here and there where I feel compelled. But this one buffaloes me. Jesus is Lord. The gospel commission tells me to obey all the things that Jesus teaches. That I choose to do because penitence demands its fruit and a heart-written covenant willingly submits to God’s will as understood. I am not trying to save myself by keeping commands; I am keeping commands because of who I am, a child of God, washed – justified sanctified. I depend on His righteousness, not my own for salvation. Now, as I understand the NT, the apostolic church worshiped without IM. Evidently the apostles taught the church to avoid going beyond what is written, 1 Co 4:6. Thus, I cannot in good conscience in assembly worship with IM. I do not judge those who believe otherwise, insofar as condemning them to hell (not my job), but I will not participate (read: fellowship) where it is used & I will vigorously teach what I believe is right in this regard. How does this help with unity if division is defined as one group using and another group rejecting IM?

  4. Alan Says:

    Ed wrote:

    Now, as I understand the NT, the apostolic church worshiped without IM. Evidently the apostles taught the church to avoid going beyond what is written, 1 Co 4:6. Thus, I cannot in good conscience in assembly worship with IM.

    What you have described is the logical process by which you infer that you should not worship with IM. Inferences are inherently disputable matters. At each step in your process, a reasonable person might infer differently from you. That does not mean Jesus is not their Lord. And therefore we should accept them without passing judgment. The Lord will make them stand.

  5. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed wrote,

    Jesus is Lord. The gospel commission tells me to obey all the things that Jesus teaches. That I choose to do because penitence demands its fruit and a heart-written covenant willingly submits to God’s will as understood. I am not trying to save myself by keeping commands; I am keeping commands because of who I am, a child of God, washed – justified sanctified. I depend on His righteousness, not my own for salvation.

    Amen.

    How does this help with unity if division is defined as one group using and another group rejecting IM?

    I cannot agree that division is defined by use or non-use of instrumental music. Rather, division happens when brothers in Christ refuse to treat one another as brothers in Christ.

    Thus, grace creates unity when you treat those using the instrument as brothers in Christ, although (to your thinking) brothers in error. While you couldn’t worship with them at a service where an instrument is being used, you could support orphanages, soup kitchens, and many other good works side by side. You could even be a part of the same congregation if the church were to have an a cappella service.

    My wife grew up in a small congregation in a mission area. They had members who considered it sin to support orphanages through the church treasury, and members who did not. They allowed members to support orphanages through a separate collection.

    They had members who considered Sunday school a sin. They gladly accepted them as members and didn’t insist that they attend Sunday school — or look down on them for not attending.

    It’s entirely possible for people who disagree on such things to be united.

  6. Ed Boggess Says:

    Greetings Alan,
    I said before, I do not condemn them but neither can I enter into a practice that I conclude is unauthorized, nor can I teach other than I believe. “Disputable matters” include immersion in many circles and in others the divinity of Jesus. And what do you mean by “accept”? If you mean practice what I do not believe, I cannot. If you mean not condemn, I already do not condemn. If you mean cooperate in areas where possible, such is already the practice.

  7. Ed Boggess Says:

    Greetings Jay,
    Brethren should love one another fervently, for love covers a multitude of sins, even error; at least I hope so because I undoubtedly misunderstand some things. If Christians can coexist having differing views on a variety of matters, congregations can coexist likewise. Each follows their own conclusions whether individual or congregational. Each respects the right of the other to think for himself/itself and still holds uncompromisingly to his/its belief. As opportunity is presented, each discusses with open-mind the differences with the other. Neither tries to police or force the other. Thus I respect those who practice IM in assembly worship as brethren and can partner with them in other areas in doing good, just as I have partnered with Baptist, Methodists,or others in such a thing as defeating a liquor by the drink law.

    However,a congregation offering both an IM service and an a cappella service raises questions. Suppose a Christian parent has two children who differ in their views on smoking pot. Should he allow both to do as they please in order to maintain unity in the home? If the parent were indifferent to pot smoking, he might do so. But if the parent believed it is wrong to smoke pot, he could not. Likewise an eldership, if they are indifferent towards IM, they might offer two services. But if they believe IM is unauthorized they could not allow its use under their supervision. So while it may seem to be a solution to one who view IM indifferently, it actually solves nothing to the one who sees it as unauthorized.

  8. Alan Says:

    Ed, I was speaking more generally of those who hold the conservative position. Many of them do not embrace as Christian those who practice IM.

    I would never encourage someone with your convictions to practice IM in worship. “He who doubts is condemned if he eats.” I understand that.

    As Jay has carefully explained, there are certain things that are required to become a Christian. Those same things are all that is required to remain a Christian. Those who are Christians are commanded to accept one another without passing judgment over disputable matters. So the basic things required to becoming a Christian are not what Paul was addressing.

  9. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed,

    I agree that an eldership that sees IM as sin can’t easily offer an instrumental service. It is certainly easier for an eldership that considers IM as indifferent to offer two services, but in that case, both those who approve and disapprove IM ought to be willing to join the congregation.

    However, I disagree to this extent. I think we get ourselves tied up in a knot when we extend fellowship to those more conservative than us (who bind where we don’t bind) and refuse fellowship to those less conservative (who loose where we do not loose). You see, when we act this way, we may extend fellowship to those more conservative than us, but they can’t extend fellowship back. Hence, no mutual fellowship, which means no actual fellowship.

    Therefore, an eldership (and Christians) have to be willing to fully accept Christians on their left — loosing where they do not loose. Hence, a no-Sunday school eldership should be willing to accept members who insist on meeting in classes, even if not “official” classes of the church.

    There are limits, of course. Your marijuana example is one, because marijuana is illegal in all 50 states (by federal law), California notwithstanding. But imagine a church where the elders are opposed to drinking, and a member believes the occasional glass of wine is no sin. Should they disfellowship him? Or accept him despite their beliefs?

    One rule, I think, is that we have to be especially gracious and tolerant on positive law issues, where there is no moral component. And we teach what we believe, no matter what. But the law of love is absolute and non-negotiable. Therefore, moral laws are generally quite plain and not really a matter of genuine dispute.

    But even on moral laws, there are gray areas. Pacifism would be a classic example, and we’ve routinely accepted one another’s disagreements even though it’s a moral question that’s all about “love your enemies” and “love your neighbor.”

    In short, a little humility and a lot of love goes a long way in creating unity in fact. Refusing all fellowship with those who loose where you do not violates Rom 14-15 and prevents unity in fact.

  10. Ed Boggess Says:

    “A little humility and a lot of love goes a long way in creating unity” indeed. We do not teach enough on longsuffering and its applications. I believe we are talking apples and oranges. Pacifism, moderate drinking, mixed swimming, etc are matters that an individual Christian may believe and practice without directly affecting anyone else in the church. In fact, they may be practiced without anyone else even knowing. Others, including an eldership, should forbear and respect the right of individuals to study and apply scripture. The church teaches a stance on each perhaps, but the individual may still believe and practice according to his own conscience. On the other hand, IM, women leading prayer or preaching or serving as elders are all assembly matters. Such matters are judged and decided by the elders in each congregation. Can an eldership offer one service with IM and another without; one with women preaching and in leading roles and another without; one with immersion and another with pouring or sprinkling? I think not. Those indifferent towards these things expect the one who believes they are unauthorized to be tolerant and thus loving. Those who believe they are unauthorized cannot share in them. Those indifferent in offering two services create a climate of indifference. Thus, in time today’s IM becomes tomorrow’s Disciples of Christ. Those who refuse such things perceive a two service arrangement as an open door to greater departures. I, respectfully, do not believe this is an answer to our problems.

  11. Alan Says:

    You make a valid point. There are some differences which a person on the “right” cannot overlook. I think some people put too many issues on that list however. Suppose I thought that it would be sin to play an instrument in worship. Would I therefore sin if someone else played the instrument, and I merely sang? Some people would argue that by singing in that setting I would be condoning the instrument, but that’s not really true. I would be exhibiting patience while (in my view) God would be working to mature the one playing the instrument. As Romans 14 says, he will stand because God will make him stand. That is exactly what Romans 14 calls us to do in such situations.

    The idea that one person playing an instrument violates another person’s conscience is misguided. If we could get past that, we could make tremendous progress toward real unity.

  12. Randall Says:

    Recently we lived in the Persian Gulf area. We were able to meet and worship collectively which is not permitted in much of the Arabian Peninsula.

    In the congregation there were about a dozen different denominational and non denomination backgrounds and that was just among those from the USA. We also had other groups represented from Canada, the UK, Germany, South Africa and other western cultures. Then there were the Filipinos, Thais, Indians (Jacobite Church for example), Kenyans, Somalis, Eritreans and on and on. And all this was in the English speaking service.

    Some were paedobaptists and others that practiced immersion. Some were Calvinists and others thought that was a bad word. There were charismatics and cessationists. Some were involved in other ministries that combated evolution and others didn’t think that was an important issue.

    And there were several from the CofC, but we all got along. We baptized by immersion in the swimming pool, but didn’t harbor ill will towards those that took their children to the Anglican church to have them sprinkled. When they were asked to women prayed in church (I was once told by a Baptist that a CofC person said that CofC women don’t pray), but the church was led by men.

    I suppose we all compromised some. Some made it a point to discuss some of these issues when appropriate – but usually for the purpose of understanding better rather than correcting.

    It was not perfect but it was a whole lot better than breaking into a dozen or more different groups.

  13. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed,

    In one post, you say you refuse to judge those on disagree on such issues as IM. In the next, you judge IM as an open door to greater departures and say that you could not worship in an a cappella service in a church where the elders consider IM indifferent. It sure sounds like judging to me.

    I certainly agree that we cannot personally participate in those things we consider sinful. But you seem to say that you cannot be in a congregation led by men who disagree with you on matters of worship, even if you are personally unaffected. You have one standard for worship and church organization and another for everything else.

    I see the problem if a church appointed women elders. You could not in good conscience submit to their authority. I see the problem regarding immersion vs. sprinkling. You can’t treat as saved those you consider lost due to being unbaptized. But I don’t see how instruments in a service you don’t attend affects you — other than the old argument that you somehow “condone” the IM by being a member of a church that does these things. But I’ve never bought the argument on condoning, because I’ve read Rom 14-15. Paul said,

    (Rom 14:5) One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

    Paul says that even though you disagree, you should both be “fully convinced” in your own minds. He’s not speaking of issues where both sides are uncertain. He’s talking about issues where both sides are fully convinced and disagree. And he commands them to “accept one another” (15:7).

    As I explained back at http://oneinjesus.info/2009/04/29/baptist-sacramentalism-2/, Paul is speaking of “accept” in the sense of being part of the same table communion. This is real, take-the-Lord’s Supper-together fellowship he has in mind.

  14. Ed Boggess Says:

    Greetings again & best wishes always,
    Evidently I didn’t make myself clear. To judge/condemn a brother to eternal damnation is not mine to do. Of course, the sins of some precede them to judgment, but we are talking about matters that require a good bit of logic applied to scripture in order to apply. So I choose to teach what I see and leave off judging.
    On the other hand, I must judge how I will interact in regard to these same matters (in this case IM); just as you did in regard to women elders and the unimmersed. Perhaps my examples were not sufficiently precise. The unimmersed are excluded as unsaved and the women elders since they would be over all (both services). What of two mixed gender services, one with women preachers, prayer and song leaders and another without? What of two services, one with those who believe they are gifted so as to produce further revelations of God and thus deliver them and another that rejects that? What of two services, one with icons, candle burning and prayers to the saints and another without?

    “Receive one another as Christ has received you”. Two examples are given: meat/no meat and days/no days. Either side of both can be observed individually without affecting the assembly. Thus, “do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God.” “To yourself” sets it in the area of individual practice. On the other hand, if something I do affects other brethren, I should “pursue the things that make for peace” and edification and “do not destroy” others by my liberty. An assembly matter affects all, even if it is offered in a separate service. How so? In a congregation there are the mature and the novice and all in between. There are those with settled convictions born of years of study and experience and others who are influenced easily. In assembly settings Paul was concerned about how things are perceived by the uninformed and unbelievers (1 Cor 14:16, 23, 24). The two service suggestion might make for peace (though I doubt it actually would) but it definitely falls short in edification in the mind of those convinced IM is unauthorized. Why? Because very possibly (even likely, in view of its fleshly appeal) the immature and uninformed will be led to accept and participate in it. It would tear down rather than build up. To see the end result consider Randall’s comment Aug 26, 8:52 AM that seems to promote “receive”/”accept” all denominations regardless of belief or practice.

    Earlier in 1 Cor 11 Paul spoke of another assembly matter: the LS. He emphasized communing with care because if it is treated lightly a child of God can put his salvation at risk. Communing in an unworthy manner brings “judgment to himself”. Can a child of God lose his salvation by failing to observe the LS properly? “We are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world”. Worship matters. A continued carelessness in regard to proper communing betrays a lack of genuine penitence. Thus Paul warned them that they should correct their behavior “lest you come together for judgment”.

  15. Alan Says:

    Two examples are given: meat/no meat and days/no days. Either side of both can be observed individually without affecting the assembly.

    Would you fellowship a congregation that taught and practiced the OT Sabbath laws? Would they fellowship you?

    Some conservatives teach that communion can only be taken on Sunday. That’s a form of observing special days. Yet many of them would consider it apostasy to take communion on any day other than Sunday. They are fully convinced in their own minds… as are those who take communion on other days. But do they accept one another?

  16. Alan Says:

    My comment went in the wrong place again… see my reply here.


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