Home » Christ vs. Church, Discipleship, On Transitioning Church » Harding University’s New President

Harding University’s New President

26 November 2012

When I was at Harding, I was a member of a social club that could sing. And boy did they sing. I sang, too, but not as well as those in the chorus of folks that surrounded me. While my voice didn’t add much to the quality of what was being sung, I did feel as though I belonged, and that my voice was welcomed and perhaps even useful, and that I was a small part of something that mattered, and that in the end I did contribute something unique.

On Rich Little’s blog, a few folks (including friends of mine that I really respect, like Mark Moore, Dusty Rush, Sara Barton, and Mary Beth Picker) have expressed some concern about the appointment of Dr. Bruce McLarty as our new president. The concern is not with Dr. McLarty, mind you, but with the priorities used by the majority of Harding’s Board of Trustees to make the appointment. As I’ve read all of these very powerful (and equally gracious and hope-filled) posts that have articulated so well some of the thoughts and feelings that I have about Harding (and the Church of Christ in general), the thought that I should add my small voice to this chorus of very strong ones has lingered. Perhaps I’m still looking for my place to belong at my beloved alma mater, longing for my voice to be both welcomed and useful, desiring to be a part of something that matters, and that in the end, perhaps I do have something to contribute that is unique.

So here I put on a robe and join this chorus of great singers on the risers, hopefully harmonizing with them, and perhaps with one small solo – that is, one more angle on this that has yet to be presented, and one that I feel uniquely positioned to give a voice. photo

I write as a proud Harding Alumni, like all of these others. I cherish my experience there, for how it grew me up in Christ, gave me a spiritual family, and launched me into a life of Kingdom impact and ministry. They were simply the greatest four (and a half – I’m slow, and didn’t want to leave) greatest years of my life.

I write as a parent of three kids who already want to go there, following in the footsteps of their dad, their grandmother, and their preacher great-grandfather. So my hopes are significantly invested in Harding’s near-future, since the most important people to me and my wife will be saturated in the environment that Harding creates.

I write as a former youth minister. I spent 14 years with “the next generation” and have not had one year where students that I have been blessed to call friends haven’t been at Harding, most of them now alumni themselves.

I write as a minister of a “mainstream Church of Christ.” At least I think I am after reading the Christian Chronicle’s interview with Dr. McLarty. Our church family practices what he lists there as “the distinctive convictions of baptism for the remission of sins, acapella music in worship, and male spiritual leadership in the congregation,” making us the very kind of church that Harding specifically says it wants to show solidarity with, as stated in their “Expanded Mission Statement,” that he quotes. Further, our church family has Harding alumni on staff, in our eldership, and in our membership. We have students that have returned from Harding, are currently at Harding, are about to attend Harding, and our youth group is taking a trip to visit there this coming weekend. We are a real life, living and breathing brochure of what Harding wants to produce, complete with an atmosphere that promotes and ensures Harding’s continuation into its bright future.

I write as a follower of Christ. While this is the most important identity marker for me in my life, and in this list, it is not the last one I’ll mention, because this next one (which is the natural result of this and the previous one) is more to the point of what I’m compelled to contribute to this conversation.

I write as a minister trying to serve the Church of Christ in a way that is faithful to both the Church of Christ and to Jesus Christ. And it is from this experience that I offer one more verse to this chorus that has been present in many of these posts, but not stated explicitly, and it is this:

When our loyalty to a Church of Christ value and our loyalty to a Jesus Christ value collide, it is the Church of Christ value that should give way.

Ironically, I learned this from my Church of Christ heritage. I grew up being taught to be wise concerning any religious belief suggested, to never blindly put the weight of my salvation upon other people’s convictions without weighing them against scripture. I, and a vast army of my peers, took this to heart. But when we applied this Church of Christ teaching to all Church of Christ teachings, we found that some of our teachings were only “distinctive convictions of the Church of Christ” (who we rightly love, appreciate, and want to be faithful to), but they were not Biblically-unquestionable distinctive convictions of Jesus Christ (whom we rightly love, appreciate, and want to be faithful to even more).

Since Bible demands this, it should surprise no one that the mainstream Church of Christ has begun to demand this, because we are above all else, people of the Book. It is our continued study of and persistent faithfulness to the living and active contents of this Book that keeps our movement faithful to its heritage. This and only this will help us to remain faithful to our name, that is to remain a church that is “of Christ.” 

Dr. McLarty, in the Christian Chronicle piece, makes this powerful observation and corresponding commitment: “As part of my doctoral work, I studied the tendency of faith-founded colleges to drift away from their founding church, to abandon their core mission, and often, to become enemies of the ideas and principles on which they were started. This solidified my resolve to do all I could do to see that this does not happen to Harding.”

I love our new president’s resolve to not allow Harding to drift away from the Church of Christ. Let’s stay a family, and keep Harding in the family. We can remain open to all without having to drift away from the Church of Christ. And let’s certainly not throw this association to the wind in order to attract more students or become more academically or athletically prestigious. Amen! While I appreciate his concern, I don’t sense Dr. McLarty will have to fight as hard as he is preparing to protect this. I’ve not heard any among our Harding family that wants to go the way of Duke, or Yale, or Harvard, each of whom did lose their attachment to their founding church affiliation, and then eventually lost their attachment to Christ and the Bible. If a call that threatens this comes from some segment among us in the future, I will gladly be counted among the folks who will ensure that he does not stand alone in his resolve. But I haven’t heard anyone call for or even have a desire for this. I know that I and those like me do not. All we are asking for is that Harding would (officially) agree that when loyalty to a Church of Christ value and our loyalty to a Jesus Christ value collide, it is the Church of Christ value that should give way.

What is the “core mission” he doesn’t want abandoned? Is it the mission to exalt Jesus Christ? Or is it the mission to exalt some distinctive doctrines of the Church of Christ?

What are the “ideas and principles” he is resolved to keep Harding from becoming an enemy? Are the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom, and the Gospel message the ideas and principles upon which Harding started? Or, are a distinctive set of Church of Christ doctrines and worship practices the ideas and principles upon which Harding started?

This really matters.

The mainstream Churches of Christ, many of which are full of Harding students – past, present, and future – has necessarily learned from the Bible that it must distinguish between these things. Only the “rigid legalism on the Right” in our fellowship would assert, for example, that there is no difference between the Gospel message and our historically distinctive Church of Christ worship practices. One is centered on Christ; the other is centered on Sunday morning gatherings. One is worth dying for; the other is an edifying practice that our churches utilize to worship God. One saves souls, the other does not.

Dr. McLarty continues by saying: “In the reflection chapter at the end of my dissertation, I wrote that my research had crystallized within my thinking the following goal: ‘To prepare Harding University to remain Christian in our core identity until Jesus returns.’”

There is none of us in any Church of Christ, even those who are extremely “Right” or “Left,” that would disagree with this crystallized goal as it is written. Further, this is not even a uniquely Church of Christ statement.

Why is this important to note?

Because, another historical heritage marker of our fellowship is the taking of universal, Biblical, and Christian words and packing them with uniquely Church of Christ meanings. If his phrase “remain Christian” means “remaining faithful to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ,” then great. But if he intends the phrase to actually mean, “remaining faithful to the distinctive doctrines and worship practices of the historical Church of Christ,” then many of us in the mainstream Church of Christ cringe, concerned that Harding is not being faithful to a Word of God that is still living and active, and to a scripture that is still useful to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us to a fuller and truer righteousness as a fellowship.

In the article, Dr. McLarty quotes the 2008 Expanded Mission Statement (proving, I guess, that we can expand our mission statement should our followership of Christ call for it) when it says: “Though we live in a time of significant confusion over our brotherhood’s identity, we are determined that Harding University will become captive to neither a rigid legalism on the Right nor a formless liberalism on the Left. ‘With gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:16, NIV) we continue to affirm such distinctive convictions of the mainstream Churches of Christ as baptism for the remission of sins, a cappella music in worship, and male spiritual leadership in congregations.”

The mainstream Church of Christ that I serve has not changed these distinctive practices, but we have prayerfully and necessarily moved with regard to our distinctive convictions. With gentleness and respect, we affirm such distinctive convictions as Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, Christ-honoring music in worship, and Christ-centered spiritual leadership in congregations. This shift has come, not from some slippery slope caused by a move away from scripture’s authority, but by a slow, methodical, and diligent study of scripture and a stricter adherence to it. As a result, our traditional tight grip on baptism has become tighter, but with a focus on Christ rather than on baptism. Our traditional practice of acapella music has not been replaced, but moved from being a Biblical requirement for salvation (demanding our judgment of those who practice differently) to a beautiful and chosen preference, allowing us to better follow the Biblical requirement of not passing judgment on disputable matters, which has kept lessor issues from hijacking our soul-saving focus Christ who saves. Our tradition of male spiritual leadership in the congregations is still practiced organizationally and positionally, but we are learning how to not hinder the powerful exertion of spiritual giftedness that is so obviously placed in both men and women by Christ, who’s Kingdom seems to operate in a way where it doesn’t distinguish between male and female (Galatians 3:28), and seems to teach and promote the priesthood of all believers, not just male believers.

These are examples of the tension that is currently present in the mainstream Churches of Christ.

It is our faithfulness to scriptural authority, the most important and cherished value of the Church of Christ, and the one upon which all others are measured by, that has moved us here. If Harding wants to stay connected to the mainstream Church of Christ, well, this is what we are doing and learning and struggling with.

As a child of this movement, a son of Harding, and a minister out here working to be faithful to both the Church of Christ and Jesus Christ, I really need Harding to help me. I don’t need it to be super sure of itself regarding where our constant Bible study will lead us in practice, nor do I need or want it to be hasty about dismissing our conclusions or practices from the past. What would be useful is for Harding to use its talented resources and faculty, its momentum in successfully ministering to our kids, and its powerful Kingdom influence to lead and provoke these hard introspective conversations that our brotherhood’s constant Bible study demands. It is exhilarating to experience Harding when it is the instigator of such honest, probing, and integrity-filled faithfulness to Bible study. But it is disheartening and discouraging to experience Harding as the entrenched guardian of the honest conclusions of our father’s and grandfather’s Bible study.

It is important to note that among almost all Christian movements, a commitment to an external religion, with all of its forms and rituals, attempts to replace that movement’s commitment to Jesus Christ alone. While I am somehow encouraged that we in the Church of Christ do not have a monopoly on this problem, I have been discouraged by our movement thinking that its commitment to scripture made us immune to it. This is hard for all of us to swallow, but humble Bible study demands it, and humble Bible study is doing so in the mainstream Church of Christ, to the praise and glory of God.

Some of the comments on Rich’s blog are asking why so many students, including those who’ve posted concern on his blog, are leaving Harding so spiritually successful, and why enrollment continues to grow, if this commitment to traditional Church of Christ doctrine and worship practices are so desperately needing to be revisited. They suggest that Harding “must be doing something right” or this kind of fruit could not be produced. Let me conclude my thoughts by offering another possible explanation.

When I was at Harding, there was a distance between the Board (and the values that they voted to have officially sanctioned by Harding) and the students (with our need to have the space to safely question everything if we were, in fact, to be “educated for eternity”). It was this distance, not Harding’s stance, that allowed me and my peers to find our own faith in Jesus Christ. So instead of Harding’s officially stated core convictions being the proactive, involved, and fully alive instigators of my spiritual growth, they served instead as representative of a static, entrenched, and superficial set of church practices that I was actively searching for a God to save me and the world from. Much like Christ, who chose to use the Pharisee’s Bible-justified, but non-life-giving, non-soul-saving, missing-the-point religious convictions as a backdrop for his disciples to learn about the real and vibrant Kingdom of God, I suggest that Christ had created space on campus for students to use Harding’s Bible-justified, but non-life-giving, non-soul-saving religious convictions as a backdrop to teach me about the real and vibrant Kingdom of God, too.

So I’m in a dilemma, because I agree with the observation that there are many alumni who went through Harding’s environment (that at least half of the Board has now voted to maintain) and have come out the other side very convicted, Christ-centered, Kingdom-promoting, Gospel-sharing citizens (as opposed to very convicted, CofC-centered, CofC-doctrine promoting, CofC-worship-practice-sharing ones). Something about this environment works to produce people committed to creating truer environments.

So the dilemma: do I want to change this backdrop that Harding’s official positions provide to create this faith-forming space between the Board and the students? Might this be a developmentally appropriate environment for the 18-22 year old to be in? Do our sons and daughters, like the disciples, need a somewhat rigid-Right institutional position to use for their own spiritual “teething,” providing a useful, off-the-mark ecclesiology upon which to discover a truer, more scriptural one? I must admit, nothing drove me into the scripture more than when my honest questions about deeply entrenched Church of Christ doctrines were met with pushback from some of the powers that be at Harding. It was perfect timing for me, and a perfect environment for me to zealously find my own faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t need an answer to this dilemma. I’m grateful for it, because it makes me both unafraid of and hopeful about, and finally, trusting God for where this all goes.

I can disagree with some convictions of some of the Board and still trust them as powerful and loving and Godly contributors to our student’s spiritual growth. One thing is for sure, and I want to be absolutely clear about this, I believe the motives behind their convictions are the exact same as mine. A desire to love God and be faithful to scripture.

That said, I would much rather Harding be a place that has stated core convictions, a Board, and a president that teaches our students, in institutional word and institutional deed, that the mainstream Church of Christ is all about faithfulness to Jesus Christ, no matter what. And this, even when that means that the Church of Christ must itself be transformed by the renewing of its corporate mind, because our movement-long commitment to being people of the Book will not be abandoned, even if that Book requires that we abandon other, lesser, movement-long commitments once seen as requirements of that Book.

While these thoughts and feelings are addressing issues that pre-date my knowing Dr. McLarty’s name, since I have mentioned him and his words in this piece, I wanted everyone to know that I am sending him these thoughts in letter form, addressed to him for his consideration. I don’t know Dr. McLarty personally, but people that I respect, respect him greatly, and I intend to continue to support Harding and him during his tenure there, which I know, one way or another, will exalt Christ and advance the Kingdom. I will be forever grateful to him for being willing to serve the Kingdom in this way.

May God bless us all, and may His grace fall over us, and may love abound even in our disagreements.

Christ vs. Church, Discipleship, On Transitioning Church

49 Comments to “Harding University’s New President”

  1. Very, very well put, Brian.

  2. I appreciate the tension here. I am particularly interested in this as my son is at Harding getting a ministerial degree. He chose Harding for its conservative values because he wanted the tension between it and his “mainstream” values. He feels that learning in an environment with this tension will push him to study harder for the way of Christ instead of believing what he always has because that is the way he is comfortable with. I too pray that Harding follow the way of Christ what ever the cost to it’s founding principals so that in the end, Christ is known better and is represented better in the world.

    • Roman – Are you saying that Austin intentionally chose Harding because of its more conservative nature? And that his reason for doing so was so that he would be more motivated to be a seeker of truth in that environment?

  3. An excellent, thoughtful piece. Not angry or judgemental. But poignant and relevant for more than just Harding’s situation. Thanks, Brian.

  4. Very thoughtful comments, Brian. I appreciate the non-judgmental tone and passionate approach.

  5. Excellent essay. It is amazing how different the content of a belief can be when the process of that belief is exposed.

    The content of the Harding theology is only one matter and it is certainly worth debating, but the process is even more important. Individual and social processes that generate content, beliefs, and doctrine tell more about the soul of an indivual or organization than the content alone.

    Brian, you have exposed a critical shift in process here that is more important than the content.

    Well done.

    • Faj – What’s an example of a “process” that you would be critical of, and what is one that you would affirm?

  6. Excellent as expected from you.

    I couldn’t agree more. If it’s true that several of our coc ministers have been black listed as campus speakers, that is a huge red flag for most thoughtful people. The men allegedly excluded are I think men just like you who through years of Bible study have found their spiritual priorities and in some cases practices rearranged.

    Godspeed

  7. Excellent essay, Brian. Very thoughtful and articulate. I love you and am very proud of you!

  8. Brian I appreciate your story and perspective. I wonder how much McLarty knows of the story of the university’s namesake – James A. Harding. Harding was a radical man. I likewise wonder how much he knows about its founding president and leading thinker, John Nelson Armstrong. Both of these men were dedicated to the kingdom rather than a distinctive Church of Christ perspective. If he can be as bold as either of these men we have reason for hope in the future. But being a flag flapping in the wind of brotherhood pressure does the kingdom little good.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  9. Thank you for this great article.
    I did mission work in China and we taught simple non-denominational Christianity, i.e. focused around Jesus, not the “Church of Christ.” Now Chinese students are attending Harding. It would be sad if they return to China and teach “Church of Christ” doctrine – instead of preaching Jesus.
    I had a sad fall-out with an ultra conservative Church of Christ, and now worship in the Christian church. Here are two of their slogans I love: “We have no distinction, because we just want to be Christian,” and “Christians only, but not the only Christians.”
    We feel so much happier and peaceful. Jesus is joy!

  10. Well said. I didn’t even know there was controversy regarding Bruce. During the four years I attended HU, I was a regular at the McLarty home bible study. They were my HU family, and I grew to love them very much. Based on your thoughts, I can see where the concern is. But I have faith in Bruce’s desire to know Christ. I recall discussions with him in regard to my visits out to the “Complete in Christ” congregation in Rosebud. I am confident in Christ in him. I also think the dialogue between Alum and current students alike is pretty healthy. It makes people think for themselves. Now I’m going to have to read some of those other blogs. =]

    • Hey Laura:

      It is important to me to be clear that this controversy is not regarding Dr. McLarty as much as it is about the values and priorities that the majority of the Board uses to make its decisions. The magnitude of a presidential selection is what has brought these thoughts to the surface, not Dr. McLarty (who I don’t know, and have heard nothing but great things).

  11. Thank you, Brian, for such well-worded, from the heart thoughts. I am also a Harding grad and am grateful for the rich heritage that was provided for me and my family as I grew up in Searcy. I am so thankful to our Father that he brought you to our body of believers and that you and our elders are so faithful in following Jesus Christ. I am also thankful for the conservative beliefs that are the basis for our moving in the direction that we are. May God be praised and glorified as we attempt to be Jesus to those around us.

  12. How can our loyalty to Christ and His church collide? If we understand that the church is His kingdom, a kingdom in which He reigns over, a kingdom in which He died for, a kingdom in which we belong if, we have been obedient. The two go together, you can’t separate them. If you have Christ, your in the kingdom, you can’t be in the kingdom without Christ. So the only way for them to collide is for us to become un-loyal subjects,disobedient servants. Jesus was faithful to the father, we must be faithful to the Son, who is King. We don’t get to decide what the kingdom is to look like. We have no right to change anything. We have to be willing to do as the King dictates, if we desire to remain in the kingdom. Unfaithful “churches” can have their candlesticks removed.

  13. Jeff- You seem to equate “the Kingdom” with “the Church of Christ” denomination. Without acknowledging that there is a difference, it is understandable that you are thrown off by my statement. There are Church of Christ values that have nothing to do with Kingdom values.

    Perhaps if I wrote it like this for you…

    “When our loyalty to a Church of Christ value and our loyalty to a Kingdom value collide, it is the Church of Christ value that should give way.”

  14. First of all, the church of Christ is not a denomination. In Acts 1 and 2 we see Christ kingdom come with power as Jesus had promised. Through out the book we see how that church was organized, how it worshipped, what it taught and believed. In Acts 2 we see how people who believed were added to it by God Himself. In Eph 4 we see that there is one body, one faith, one baptism, one hope, one Lord. There is only one church and it belongs to Christ, because He built it and died for it. If we do as the Lord dictates and obey, the Father will adds us to His kingdom. Man has created what they consider Gods kingdom, churches they call them, that don’t worship, not organized like, they don’t believe and teach as the Lord has directed. We can and we must seek the kingdom that Christ built anything else is just vain worship. For God is not the author of confusion but man is. Now since your lumping in all man made “churches” your statement of church and kingdom values colliding is not only correct, but predictive. My loyalty is to Christ and His kingdom, His church, they go hand in hand and cannot be separated. How can we say that Christ is our King, yet we create and desire to belong to some other man made kingdom?

    • Hi Jeff. I am sure you agree that just as not anyone who cries, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom, so not all who claim to be Jesus’ church are His church. We understand that there is but one church – and this is not a denomination, but because we are human, our traditions creep in. Dress codes, order of service, etc. At times these rules are benign, but sometimes they lead to clashes with the Bible. It is then that we need to follow Jesus above our church rules. We are part of the Restoration Movement, and restoration is ongoing. Think of a physical house. Somewhere always needs painting/cleaning/tiling/etc. In one sense we are perfect because Jesus’ grace makes us perfect, but in another we always need restoration. It is dangerous to say “We have arrived,” because then arrogance sets in. We need to continually align ourselves to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. In that sense, when a church’s rules and Jesus clash, we hold to Jesus.

      • I would agree with that. I would say in matters of opinion we all have liberty. The problem is however that many have a wrong idea of what is a command and what is opinion. We as individuals continue to grow and mature. But, we don’t hope to be the church one day, we must be the church today. We can be the Lord’s church today if and when we obey. It is man made church rules that causes all the problems. But remember, Christ has established rules of His own that must be followed.

    • Jeff – I don’t know your background, but mine is in the Church of Christ denomination. The one I grew up in claimed to be the one, true, only, and authorized church of Christ. When we would speak of the church of Christ that scripture speaks of, we would presume that it was speaking of the Church of Christ denomination that came from the Restoration Movement initiated by Alexander Campbell and merged with by Barton Stone. Do you make this assumption? If so, I respectfully disagree with you (and my past self, who did the same thing).

      The church of Christ is not perfectly incarnated by, nor limited to, the Church of Christ denomination that meets for worship services of various kinds (or of specific, uniform kinds) in buildings all over our cities.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, buy you use the word “denomination” as a condemning title that describes any church that doesn’t “obey Christ” accurately enough. In that case, then almost every 1st Century Church that Paul and John wrote to was a denomination.

      I, on the other hand, use the word denomination to benignly describe any group that claims to follow Christ, but has it’s own distinctive interpretation of what that means you should believe or includes in practice. I think this difference in definition of terms explains why you insist the earth-bound, man-organized Church of Christ is not a denomination, but synonymous with the kingdom-ruled, God-ordained church of Christ.

      I, on the other hand, believe there are members of the church of Christ that are also members of the Church of Christ (and other denominations). And there are members of the Church of Christ (and other denominations) that are not members of the church of Christ.

      And even though I believe that, I have very little need to judge between who is who, leaving that job to God, as I just try to make disciples of anyone and everyone I meet no matter where they are at or what they believe. The most mature disciples I know still have room to become more like Christ, as do the worst sinners I know (of whom I count myself among).

      • Brian, my back ground is the Lord’s church which He established on Pentecost A.D.33. I don’t give much thought to the “restoration movement”. It was simply a movement by a few who saw the need to get back to simple New Testament Christianity. Some got it while others did not. To say that the church of Christ was born out of this movement is nothing more than blasphemy. The Disciples of Christ denomination was, but the church of Christ was not. I know that because I can read about the Lord’s church in His divine revelation. I can see how this church was organized, how and when they worshipped, what they believed and what they taught. It doesn’t take a rocket engineer to figure these things out. All it takes is a willingness to obey our God. Now as for the term “denomination”. If Jesus built, and then died for “HIS” church, along with the fact that “this” church was most often referred to as “the church” which suggests that there was only one, coupled with Eph 4 where we are told that there is but one body. Yes, I use the term in a condemning way. Jesus built only one church, His, that is the church in which I desire to belong, not some replica that man has made. Jesus has set the terms and conditions that man must obey in order to be a part of this church. I know that many of you can’t deal with this fact, I hope you do before its too late. Scripture has warned us about perverting the gospel, that false teachers would come in among us. That we are to worship in spirit and in “TRUTH”. Jesus Himself has said, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” He also said, “not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of God.” why is that? because He never knew them. Matt 7:21f. Now, if your going to disagree with what I have said,it is scripture you have a problem with, not me. To be a follower of Jesus is to believe what He has taught and be willing to do it and then doing it.

        • Jeff:

          For a man who gives little thought to the Restoration Movement, you sure sound a lot like us. Right down to your assertions that you grew up in the church established in AD 33, that the church of Christ = Church of Christ, your emboldening of the word TRUTH as if it is more neglected (and more important) than SPIRIT, and that any disagreement with you is disagreement with scripture.

          My disagreement with you is not with scripture, but with your approach to scripture. Big difference. (John 5:39-40)

          To be a follower of Jesus is to be like Jesus (1 John 2:5).

          If confidence is going to flow into our hearts from God concerning our salvation, it will come not from our perfect adherence to a list of law-like “terms and conditions” that Jesus laid out, but from our submission to a love-like transforming work in us that makes us more like Jesus (1 John 4:7).

          The name “Church of Christ” on a building makes us the church of Christ about as much as the name “Disciples of Christ” on a building makes them disciples. In both instances, you would have to go beyond their outward works of the flesh (how they worship, what their mouths say they believe, what denomination (or non-denomination) they say they grew up in), and go straight for the spirit underneath it all to see if love for God and love for others is authentically and supernaturally there (Matt 22:36-40). Why? Because the flesh counts for nothing, and can not deliver life. Only the spirit can (John 6:63-64). If you are offended by this, it is not me you have a problem with, nor is it scripture that you are disregarding, it is just that God has not led you to this understanding, because only He can deliver it (John 6:65). Jesus is interested in people pursuing the truth, to be sure, but he defined the truth as himself, not a bunch of laws he uttered (John 14:6). John even clarified this by explaining that “grace and truth” are on one side of things, and “law” is on the other (John 1:17). The New Testament is not a new law to follow. It is a message. A gospel message.

          If you add a bunch of worship requirements (or anything!) that you extract from the Bible by trying to imitate the imperfect 1st century church, you will be approaching the Bible in a way that it does not instruct you to, you will grab answers to questions from texts that were not written to address your agenda, and you will build a man-made institution based on these misused texts, all the while claiming that you are “simply following the Bible” (and no one else is, by the way).

          And, ironically, you will not do what the Bible actually calls for – to fix your minds and eyes on Jesus Christ, who authors and perfects your faith (Heb 3:1; 12:2). You won’t go out on the commission to “make disciples” (Mt 28:19), trusting Christ to “build his church” like he said he would (Mt 16:18). Instead, you will become the guardian and promoter of “the one true church,” being quite church-focused, instead of proclaimers of the gospel (which is the life-giving story and mission of Jesus), and being Christ-focused.

          Traditional Church of Christ Restorationists only appeal to Christ to authorize what they falsely say he says about how to do church right (he only mentions church twice).

          Our appeal to Christ should be about explaining why we live in such a loving, full, life-giving, freedom-promoting, sin-demolishing, Kingdom-bringing way.

          God bless you, Jason, and all of us, in our ongoing discovery and followership of truth (Jesus).

          • Brian,
            First of all, to worship in spirit means from the heart, we must have the right attitude, desiring to worship as we have been instructed to do. To be like Jesus is to be obedient to the Father. Jesus Himself said He didn’t come to satisfy His own will, but the will of the Father. And yes, I do believe that the New Covenant, the perfect law of liberty, the law of faith is law. Jesus said, “why do you say that you love Me, and do not what I say.” He also said, “If you love Me,keep my commandments.” God has led me to understand, because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17. You seem to not understand that the “law” John, Peter, Paul were speaking of was the old law of sin and death, the law of Moses. We live under law, to name just one, God’s marriage law, that Jesus spoke of in Matt 5 and 19. Remember , where there is no law, there is no transgression of law. If we live under no law, we can’t sin, we can therefore not be lost. I also know that you look at God’s devine word with post modern eyes. You believe that there are no absolute truths. That the reader must determine for themselves what truth is. I believe that the bible is indeed Gods word, His final revelation to man. We are “to hold fast to the pattern of sound words.” So yes, we do disagree in how we must approach this devine book. I may seem like a church promoter, because you continue to try and separate Christ from His church. I have no agenda, other than being obedient to my God. Throughout the whole bible, if man can’t learn the simple lesson, that God expects and demands obedience, there is no hope for them. Is that not what love is? When we desire to know what God wants and with all our heart we do it? How else can we ever hear, “well done thy good and faithful servant, enter in.” It will be His church in which Christ will come for and it will be His church that He presents to the Father. I don’t really know for sure what you think the church is, but the church is what the saved are added too. I know your agenda, and that is to change the Lord’s church into what you think it should be. So many faithful brothers and sister who came before us, I guess in your mind, they just weren’t smart enough to “grasp” the deeper things of God, like you think you have. I was raised in the church of Christ, I’ve been a member for 45 years, a Deacon and I now proudly serve as an Elder. Many of the things that you teach are foreign to the Lord’s church. As an Elder, it is my duty to guard the flock, to defend the faith that was once and for all delivered. To tell people to be like the Bereans, who searched the scriptures daily, to see if what they were being told was so. And yes, we are to be like Jesus, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to teach them the truth, so they too, can have the hope that I do. Have you ever wondered why, out of the 27 books in the New Testament, 21 of them teach the Christian how to live , how to worship, and how to remain faithful? Faithful to what and to whom Brian?

  15. Also Brian, I should add that when our values, what we believe and teach differ from Christ we are in serious trouble. We have become something else, I would say we have become an denomination. Something that is foreign, estranged, and removed from the sight of God. We have then become what Matt 7:21ff is talking about. The church is the kingdom and if we are the church our values must be the same as Christ’s, or else we are nothing more than a denomination of man made values.

  16. Jeff – Let me apologize if I came across arrogant towards those who came before us. I owe my faith to my grandparents, parents, and countless “faithful brothers and sisters” in the Church of Christ, and I certainly do not see myself as better or more spiritual than they, or you.

    Now, if I may…on your assertion that “to be like Jesus is to be obedient to the Father.” Of course, this is true. But so is “to be like Jesus is to be humble and gentle.” (Mt 11:29) As is “to be like Jesus is to be compassionate towards the sick.” (Mk 1:41) And “to be like Jesus is to be prayerful.” (Lk 5:16) And “to be like Jesus is to let the children come to you.” (Lk 18:16) So would you assert that unless you are humble, gentle, compassionate towards the sick, prayerful, and in ministry to children, you are not a member of the one true church? And that if you get these wrong, then you are in error, and you are lost? Further, if what Jesus commands is intended as a “new law to obey unto salvation”, then we would of course start with those commands that he himself says are most important, love for God with all that we are, and love for neighbor as ourselves (Mt 22:37-39). Are you prepared to say that if a Christian falls short of these high standards in some way that they have fallen out of the one true church? That they are indeed lost?

    Do you see the problem with looking at Christ’s call as a static “law to follow” rather than an organic “way to pursue”?

    To further illustrate, let us do what you suggest, and extract a few of the commands of Jesus from his sermon on the mount, and hold them as law over you. What if you, Jeff, were to fail to rejoice and be glad when people insult, persecute, or say evil against you (Mt 5:11), or you fail to let your light shine so that men can see your good deeds (5:16), or if you struggle with anger for your brother (5:22), or you trip up and look at a woman lustfully (5:28), or you defend yourself against an evil person (5:39), or you don’t love and pray for your enemy (5:44), or you store up treasures on earth (6:19), or you worry about your life (6:25)? Are you prepared to say that if you disobey these clear, simple, and direct commands of Jesus, that his work for you in the cross is null and void? That you are not a part of the church of Christ that he inaugurated?

    I could go on and on, of course, but I say this to illustrate my discomfort with your singular and over-emphasis emphasis on “obedience” to “law” vs. “followership” of “Christ.” It puts people’s attention first on “getting a few outward things right” in order to be saved. And as I think you know, getting a few outward things right, no matter what they are, does not connect someone to the saving love of God any more than getting a few outward things wrong can separate someone from it (Rm 8:39).

    The Kingdom is an inside job. (Lk 17:21) An “inside of you” job, that is.

    This is why I call people to Christ and to become like Christ. And those that answer that call are disciples of Christ, and members of the church of Christ. No matter which denomination or non-denomination they worship with on Sundays (or Saturdays, or whenever).

    • But Brian, if I don’t walk in the light as He is in the light, I don’t and can’t have fellowship with Him. We show our love for Him by being obedient to Him. Jesus Himself said, why do you call me Lord, and do not do what I say? If I were to ask you, what must I do to be saved, what would your answer be?

      • If you were to ask me what must you do to be saved, I would start with, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

        Any man who does this, walks in the light precisely as he is in the light, and has fellowship with him.

        You say, “we show our love for Him by being obedient to Him,” while I say, “we are obedient to Him BY loving Him.” This is, after all, the greatest commandment (along with loving others), underneath which any other act of obedience must be faithful or be useless.

  17. Jason (continued from previous comment)- I use a vocabulary that does not cut obedience out, as you presume I am doing, but it does prevent obedience from stealing the Gospel’s glory (and the power of attaining salvation) from the person of Jesus. I get this idea from the likes of John “Anyone who claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 1:9), Paul “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), Peter “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pt 2:21), and Jesus himself, “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you” (Jn 13:15); “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn 20:21). Have you wondered why out of 27 books in the New Testament, 27 of them are pointing to the heart, character, mission, attitude, or priorities of Jesus as the standard upon which we are to live, and that faith in the work and message of Jesus is what is necessary to be saved? It is this work of Jesus that is of first importance, and obedience to Christ results and grows from belief in it. Paul articulates what is central to the gospel powerfully in 1 Cor 5:1-11. And Peter articulates this idea that deeper and deeper obedience is achieved in co-operation with God by Christians (who are already members of His church) in 2 Peter 1:1-9. Again, Peter is saying clearly that fuller and fuller obedience is achieved by those who remember they are forgiven, and lack of obedience comes from those who have forgotten that.

    The Church of Christ is perhaps, above all else, a movement made up of “people of the Book.” And this call to enter into a life of ever-increasing transformation into the image of Jesus is much more Biblically defendable than the call to imitate the 1st Century Church’s worship practices when we gather on Sunday. As a matter of fact, I can’t find that anywhere.

    How do I know this?

    Because one of the values that my forefathers taught me was one you mentioned: to be like the Bereans, and not take anyone’s claim about scripture without searching scripture for myself. This is a powerful Church of Christ value, and one I have applied to other Church of Christ teachings, and I’ve come to some different conclusions than my beloved forefathers did. Conclusions based on the text, by the way, not on some post-modern belief. Your accusation that I don’t believe in absolute truths (which I did not take as vicious) is wildly incorrect, but is an understandable reaction to my not agreeing with your conclusions about what they are.

    I believe that the gospel message is real and true.
    I believe that faith in it leads to life like Christ now, and life eternal.
    I believe that anyone who has that is a member of the church of Christ.

    These are absolute truths that I believe in.

    In contrast (and you can correct me if I’m wrong, which I may be), while I believe that grace from Christ saves, you believe that obedience to law saves. While I believe that the Word became flesh to dwell among us and save us, you believe the Word became a law to be adhered to save us. You study scripture because you think that following law-like scriptures will save you, while I study scripture to find Christ who saves me (Jn 5:39 – very defining text for me here.) You believe that the Church of Christ is the church of Christ, and that I’m separating Christ from it, while I believe you can’t separate Christ from the church of Christ, but some Churches of Christ have separated themselves from him and his intent quite unintentionally.

    One of the results of your law-based belief is that it is easy to look at me, compare what I’m doing with the laws you’ve chosen to highlight in scripture, measure me by them, and then judge whether I am saved or lost, a part of Christ’s church or not, and it gives you a very simple and visible and tangible way of feeling like whether or not you have converted me or not. This is one of the attractions of thinking of Christianity in terms of faithfulness to a law.

    One of the results of my grace-and-truth-based belief is that it is easy to get into relationship with absolutely anyone without friendship-threatening judgment at all. Since my call is to a message and to a way (rather than to a law), there is not anyone, Christian or not, my denomination or not, that doesn’t need to grow in it, and no need (or room) for me to judge them since I am just like them. I leave it to Jesus to figure out who is “in” and who is “out” of his church, since he said he would build it, not me (Mt 16:18). This is one of the attractions of thinking of Christianity in terms of faithfulness to love.

    Jesus was once asked directly the question that you think you have the answer to by saying there is a new law to follow. He was asked: “What must we do to do the work do the works God requires ?” And Jesus answered: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (Jn 6:28-29)

    So, rather than go around trying to get different Church groups or Christians to make their worship services look a certain way, I go around trying to believe more in Jesus, and inviting and helping others to do the same. Back when I was converting people follow the Bible as if it was a manual for doing church right, not one ended up looking more like Christ as a result. Not one felt forgiveness as a result of believing in accapella music, not one depressed person was healed because they believed women should not lead a prayer at church, not one grieving person felt comfort by changing from their denomination to mine. But all of these things HAVE happened to the same type of people when I invite them to believe in and follow Jesus! I’m going to stick with this truer, more biblical, more effective, Kingdom-bringing work for now. If I am to judge a tree by its fruit (Mt 12:33), I must!

  18. Jason (continued) – On a final note (I know, finally! But I saved the best news in the world, the gospel message, for last):

    Of course I understand that when the apostles speak of the Law, they are speaking of the Law of Moses. But they are also speaking against the whole idea of a law of any kind being able to save. You, Jeff, defended the need for a law by saying that “If we live under no law, we can’t sin, we can therefore not be lost.” If this is right, that means that the opposite is true: “We need a law, so that we can follow it, so that we can be without sin, and we can be saved.” Right?

    Scripture combats and corrects this inaccuracy in several theological ways. But I’ll limit myself to the one that is coming quickly to mind, and most directly addresses your assumption: Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law (Mt 5:17), not so that he could bring a new one, but so that the righteous requirements of the law that we CAN NOT ever fulfill ARE fulfilled for us! Of course we can sin without living under a law. Sin is better understood as doing anything that leads to death, which God is against because He loves us so much, and desires that we have life. Law made it more obvious to us that we can not go without sinning, and therefore intimately connects us to our need for the gospel! Rom 8:1-4 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

    Praise God!!!

    • Sorry for the late comments, I just returned to your blog. There is a lot to say but I won’t. Did you obey anything when you became a Christian? Do you obey anything now? If not, how can you remain faithful unto death? And faithful to what Brian?

      • Your questions reflect the false belief that if I credit God’s grace alone as the means of salvation, then I will have no reason (and nothing) to obey. How ironic, for the very reason I obey is because I am so grateful for and moved by God’s saving grace so freely given to me.

        I used to obey in order to be saved, as you suggest. Now I obey as an act of responsive love for God.

        Another irony here is that the outward acts of obedience that I will strive to remain faithful to unto death will look very similar if not identical to the ones I presume you practice. It is just that you do them in order to qualify for the saving love of God, while I do them as a result of the saving love of God. My confidence and security, therefore, does not come from the adequacy of my faithfulness, but from God’s.

        Allow me another attempt at explaining this subtle, but significant, difference with another text; one I think you noted in a previous post, where Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (Jn 14:15)

        My perception is that you focus on the latter part of this statement, hearing it as if he said, “Look for and follow my commandments, and this will prove you love me.” I used to do this, and it led to a life of needing a law to follow in order to be saved. It made me look for laws in in the New Testament, heavy handed in promoting to others what I found (usually other Christians who disagreed with me), and argumentative – driven by my need to “be right” in order to “be saved”.

        I now focus on the first part of this statement, hearing it as if he said, “Keep falling in love with me, and you will quite naturally keep my commandments.” This has led me to a life of needing to stay in love with Jesus. It has made me look for Christ in the whole Bible, excited to tell others who (vs. what) I’ve found (often folks who don’t know Christ yet), and humble – driven by my awareness that I will never get it all right, but I’m saved anyway.

        I appreciate your perseverance with me on this dialogue, Jeff. It is quite challenging and invigorating.

        • Hi Brian & Jeff. I need to comment on “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (Jn 14:15). I grew up in a very conservative & law-oriented CoC. The above verse used to make me feel very guilty, because I could never keep Jesus’ commands well-enough, and so I questioned whether I really loved Him. I felt insufficient. Then a friend asked me a life-changing question. He asked: On which day does God love you more; a day when you are a “good Christian,” or the day when you are a “bad Christian.” I replied, the “good Christian” day. He said: Then you believe you are saved by works. I knew that was wrong, and suddenly realized that God loved me the same on BOTH days. I am saved because Jesus is good — not because I am good. When I was baptized into Him I was clothed with Him. He covers me. I suddenly felt such freedom. God’s love is not dependent on my goodness. Sure, if I choose to take off the “garment” of Christ, I may permanently fall away from Him, but this is not the case for most true believers. When I sin, I mourn and hold onto Him — the garment of Christ — tighter… and His love remains. I am, therefore, so joyous I WANT to obey Him. Like the verse says: I love Him [because He first loved me] so I WANT to obey His commands. Guilt does not overwhelm, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. do!

        • Brian, my wife says I can be challenging as well. Love is an action word, it is not a fuzzy feeling we get. God showed His love for us by sacrificing His Son, His Son showed us His love by suffering on the cross. Jesus said, IF you love Me, you WILL keep my commandments. I agree that we do so because we love Him. If my wife says she loves me, and then is not faithful does she really love me? If we truly love Jesus, we will seek what pleases Him and do it. Our love for Him and keeping His commandments cannot be separated. Jesus also said, “why do you call me Lord and do not what I say”? I asked, “what must I do to be saved”? you said, I would tell them to love God with all their heart, mind and soul etc. If that’s all you say, they remain in a lost condition. We are saved by grace through faith. Faith is an action word as well, an obedient faith is what saves.
          To T.J. believing is a work, repentance is a work, confession is a work, baptism is a work. All works of God, man didn’t devise these things, God did. Works of man are, inviting Christ into your heart to be your personal Savior, after saying the sinners prayer. Man invented that, no where in scripture can that be found, so those who claim I boast in my works, are the ones who are guilty of devising man made works and then boast. Works are necessary, works of God.

          • Agreed. Nothing you just said significantly contradicts one thing I said.

            I disagree, however, with your assumption that one necessarily remains in a lost condition because they only heard from me that they are saved by loving God and others with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. No one who loves God and others fails to discover and do the things that come from a heart that loves God and others (see your own comments about love being an action word, not a fuzzy feeling we get).

          • Brian, It’s not an assumption, unless one obeys the gospel of Jesus Christ they remain in an unsaved condition. Love and emotions are fickle, you said those who love God never fail to discover and do the things that come from a heart that loves God. Love is a motivator, not the end all.. we must come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and obey.

          • I need some clarity about your definition of terms: Out of one side of your mouth you say “love is an action word,” equating love with action, and then out the other you say “love and emotions are fickle,” equating love with emotions.

            I need you to pick your definition so that we can be speaking the same language. Is love an action or emotion to you?

            As for me, every single time you read “love” from me (and I believe every time you hear it from Jesus), you can depend on the fact that they are inclusive of action. Your suggestion that I might mean otherwise is something you have introduced to the conversation.

            So again…properly understood, I agree with your last post. Nothing to disagree with or disagreeable with anything that I previously posted. You just use “obey the gospel” rather than “love God and love others”. They are synonyms in my way of thinking – just different, legitimate, and solidly Biblical ways of saying the same thing. Each one presumes the other, and neither can be satisfied without the other.

            But evidently, you think otherwise.

            Perhaps the bridge between you and I is the understanding that you do not attach to love what I do (and what I believe Jesus does) that allows me (and him) to use the Great Commandment as inclusive of anything and everything else that matters, without the need of listing them.

            True?

            If so, this explains why you are uncomfortable with any presentation of the gospel message that does not include a comprehensive list of what it is a man must “do” in order for you to be comfortable that they are “saved” or have “obeyed the gospel”.

            See, I think love for God is a commandment to be obeyed, as is love for others. The sincere lover naturally becomes a sincere (and life-long) learner of just what it takes to love God and others, and “obeys” what he finds. On the flip side, if you think it is a mere emotion/motivator, then you would think you need a list of commandments to be obeyed.

            To this, a question or two:

            When Jesus is asked what is most important, and he answers with “Love God and love others.” Would you say: “That’s not enough, Jesus, you must articulate not just the emotions, but the specific rules that must be obeyed”? Likewise, when Jesus is asked directly, “What must we do to do the work that God requires,” (an exact quote) and he answers with “Believe in the one He has sent” (another exact quote). Would you say, “You can’t just say that, Jesus, if they don’t obey something, then they will remain in an unsaved state”?

            I’m probably wrong, but you seem worried about jots and tittles that Jesus himself wasn’t worried about. He presented what a person must “do” many times, in several different ways, as if each one was adequate in its own rite, and as if they all meant the same thing, and would naturally lead to the same life.

            I tried to illustrate the difficulty, if not impossibility, of such a works-based approach to scripture in an earlier post. Where would you begin and end in outlining the “commands” that must be followed unto salvation?

            Or asked in your way, how would YOU answer, “what must I do to be saved?”

            I’d love to what you would include to ensure to your satisfaction that someone has “obeyed the gospel” and from where you get your list.

  19. Hi Jeff. I agree that these ( repent, confess, baptism, etc.)are all required works, but God is the initiator. We love because He FIRST loved us. We therefore obey His commands out of a faith response. God bless you, brother.

  20. Heb 5:9 ” And being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” The question I asked was first asked in Acts 2. Men and brethren what must we do? You can see their willingness to repent, they now believed that Jesus was the Son of God. The answer Peter gave was repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins. Those that gladly received those words were indeed baptized. If Peter had said to them, love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength would they have known what they MUST do? Love is fickle because man loves to do many things, things that are sinful. Love is a motivator, we do based upon what we want to do, what we love to do. We must be trained in God’s ways. Nadab and Abihu loved God, but they disobeyed. They thought they were doing what God would accept, but we know that He didn’t. In Hebrews 11, all those people were moved by love to action, action that pleased God. I guess it’s the way you use the word love. It seems from you, that if you love, all is good and well in the world. Our love must be motivated properly, by the right action. Drug addicts “love” to do drugs. Drunkards “love” to drink. I do as the Lord has directed because I “love” Him. If we agree, why do you have such trouble, plainly stating what one must do? When Jesus stated “love God” I would have to conclude that, that means that I need to come to an understanding of God’s will and earnestly comply. Or else why would Jesus say, “Why do you call me Lord, and do not the things that I say”?

  21. That’s it? You just prefer Peter’s answer to Christ’s as if they are in competition?

    Go with God on that, Jeff, and be at peace that we are saying the same thing, if indeed you are calling baptism an act of obedience that is a receiving of and response of love (however, I would not end my list at baptism, and do not see how or why you would either, only using the “command of Peter” in Acts 2 to satisfy the “obey him” statement of Heb 5:9, rather than the many actual “command of Christ” in the gospel. After all, baptism is the easiest and least sacrificial of all of “Christ’s commands” to satisfy).

    I have answered the question Peter’s way many times as well, when appropriate, and have baptized 100’s as a result. And I do not say that to elevate myself in any way, only to put you at ease should you be concerned that my presentation somehow excludes baptism. It most certainly does not.

    However, I have heard many Christians in our movement (my past self included, as I have confessed) elevate baptism to the the place that only Jesus on the cross can occupy – the Cause and Source of our salvation. No one will mistake that in my proclaiming of the good news ever again.

    I wonder if someone could make that mistake in yours? Probably not, but the test is in the answer to this question: Are you as adamant about and jealous for the words of Jesus being used when someone is asked “what they must do” as you are about Peter’s?

  22. Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, and He said, “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, the second is liken unto it, love your neighbor as thy self.” He was not asked what one must do to be saved. Jesus also said in John 3, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The “greatest” commandment is not the end all of commandments. I would place it in the live faithfully unto death category. I believe that Peter, like the other New Testament writers were inspired. What they say is as equally important, don’t you think Brian? I would hope that we can agree that belief, repentance, confession and baptism, our obedience to them puts us in a saved condition. It’s our starting point. Saying that we love God is meaningless until we obey the gospel. Again we show, we prove our love for Him by being obedient to His will. We grow in our love for Him as we discover and learn more about Him. If we do, we can truly say that we love God.

  23. Indeed, the greatest commandment is not the end of all commandments. It is the beginning and greatest of all of them. According to Jesus, in the verse you quoted from Matthew, it is THE commandment upon which all other commandments hang, are to be understood, and have any value. And according to Paul, any obedience to any commandment without it render them about as useless as a resounding gong or a clanging symbol, gaining you nothing even if perfectly followed (1 Cor 13).

    You said that Jesus was not asked what one must do to be saved. This is an oversight on your part. While I think the case could be convincingly made that this most certainly was what motivated their question in the Matthew passage you quoted (why else would they want to know which command is the greatest?), there is no need. Because Jesus exalts the Great Commandment in epic fashion several times throughout the gospels, one of which is in Luke 10 in answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Incidentally, he then goes on to tell a story that exhibits that love (in Jesus’ definition, not yours) is most certainly action to be obeyed, not mere feeling or motivation, as you suggest). This is why I ask you, “Are you as adamant about and jealous for the words of Jesus being used when someone is asked “what they must do” as you are about Peter’s?”

    And speaking of Peter, I certainly do believe the NT writers were inspired. I’m interested to know why you would suspect otherwise?

    Concerning your query about whether I think of the teachings of Jesus and all NT writers as equally important: I sure don’t, and they didn’t either, and I would expect nothing less from any Jesus follower. Jesus followers exalt Jesus above all others in every category imaginable, as does God Himself.

    Therefore, I interpret everything Paul (and Peter) says and does through the lens of what Jesus has said and done, as Paul himself would recommend we do. He wrote “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” not “Imitate me and Christ.” This is but one example of Paul’s insistence that his life and teachings be seen and interpreted through the lens of the life and teachings of Jesus.

    Saying “the whole Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit” has unintentionally caused the false (and unbiblical) belief that all verses in the Bible are created equal. This remains untrue without having to say the lessor ones are uninspired, unimportant, or unnecessary. Jesus himself said there are matters written in inspired scripture that are more important than others (Mt 23:23). He also says his own witness is weightier than that of John the Baptist (John 5:36) and I dare say he could truthfully speak this about any Biblical writer on either side of his life and ministry. Actually, I dare not say anything else.

    And surely you believe this – that all scriptures are not created equal – because even you seem to pick and choose which commands you decide are worthy of listing as the ones that “put us in a saved condition” while excluding others clearly commanded by Christ, some of which are directly connected to salvation.

    What is baffling me is that for some reason, you won’t put the command of love for God and others, the command that Jesus Christ himself says is greatest, most important command to follow… the one that is explanatory, inclusive, and enlivening of all others… the one that Jesus uses to answer what is necessary to inherit eternal life… at the top of your list or as even a command to obey, preferring to minimize it as an emotion or a motivation.

    I still have hope that we are closer in spirit and in practice than this exchange appears to exhibit, merely struggling to get comfortable with each others language.

    But perhaps we are farther apart than I hope: you thinking my view leaves people in jeopardy of falsely feeling saved when they haven’t “obeyed the gospel”, and me thinking your view borders on a legalism that puts the power of salvation in our hands rather than in the gospel.

    Either way, I judge us as brothers in Christ, covered by the cross of Christ, because of our belief in Christ.

  24. I would say that at times Jesus spoke in parables, He spoke in part to make appoint. You and I may have only one chance to answer that question, we need to be very clear as to what they need to do, or else we may leave a incomplete idea in their minds. When Jesus sent out the 70, He said, “he who hears you, hears me, he who rejects you, rejects Me.” We know that shortly before Jesus left this earth, He said to the Apostles that there are things that you cannot bear at this time. He told them that he was sending them a comforter who would lead them into all truth. I would have to conclude that what they taught was equally as important, because all of it was from Christ Himself. God’s power is in the gospel, but that fact alone, does not save me. We have to accept it, we accept it by being obedient to it. There are terms and conditions put in place by God, that must be obeyed. When I obeyed the gospel, I don’t think I can say that I loved God. I had a healthy respect for Him. I obeyed when I realized my condition. Sorrow and fear motivated me more than anything. I had to learn to love God. Coming to see the enormity of His grace, understanding the love he had for me. I had to grow in order to love God. For a Christian, who is seeking to do God’s will, living faithfully, it can be said that they love God with all…..etc. Because it is love that motivates them to do so. But again, if that’s not the crux of the matter, why, did Jesus say, “why do you call me Lord, and do not the things that I say. “if you love Me, keep my commandments.” Not to do what He has said, is to say, I don’t love you.

  25. Jeff,

    You, and other guys, quote the phrase “if you love Me, keep my commandments.” as if to be baptized is the only commandment Jesus ever made. There are more…

    To “obey the gospel” is first to believe it, then comes other responses that are a result of faith, or that confirm our faith. Baptism is one, but not the only response.

    • Your right Royce, I have pointed that out many times. We first, hear, believe what we hear, repent, confess His name, and be baptized, then we live faithfully unto death. T.J. we will be known by the fruit we produce. We can produce good fruit or we can produce bad fruit. To produce fruit of the Spirit, is to live and teach what the Spirit has delivered. I don’t like to argue. I am simply contending for the faith that was confirmed and once and for all delivered. If we are not teaching “truth” how fruitful for the kingdom can we be? Paul talks a lot about “unity”. Unity is based upon something. That something is “truth”. If we don’t teach and practice “truth” we cannot have the kind of unity Paul was speaking of. You know, speaking the same things, being of one mind, having the same judgment. having the mind of Christ. If we don’t teach and live “truth” we can feed the world and for what T.J., so they and we can die in a lost condition with a full belly? By the way T.J. the lord’s church is not a “service” organization, ( lion’s club etc). Our purpose is the same as Christ’s, seek and save the lost. If we can bring them to Christ by putting food in their belly, well good, if they refuse to hear the message, we are to go elsewhere. Yes the world is burning, but it pales to the burning thats coming.

  26. Jeff, it is clear that this debate can go on forever. Jesus said that we will know His followers by the fruit. How many hours have been wasted that could have been used serving God by serving people in need? Also, is this discussion producing the fruit of the Spirit? I don’t know. Over and again Brian has called you brother, but you don’t seem to accept this. Maybe I am wrong, but you seem to want to argue. Before continuing maybe it is useful to ask: Is this really fruitful for the kingdom? Please forgive me if I am too direct, but the world is burning and baptized believers are fighting each other. Jesus said that the world would know us by our love.

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