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Dr. Richard E. Oster, Jr. HUGSR • 1000 Cherry Road • Memphis, TN 38117 email@example.com copyright 2009 The purchaser of this PDF file is not permitted to make a copy of this PDF file. The purchaser of this PDF file is allowed to print only two copies. Copies of this file may be ordered from http://www.scribd.com/store
Dedicated to the spirit of the Bereans and their love of Scripture (Acts 17:11)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 THE CULTURE OF REEXAMINATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 The Bible . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Hell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 The Restoration Principle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Fellowship and Unity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 POSTMODERN ADVOCATES AND FRUSTRATED CAMPBELLITES . . . . . . 13 HISTORIOGRAPHY AND GEORGE ORWELL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 KING HEZEKIAH AND THE REMOVAL OF “RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY” . . . . 32 AND “SECTARIAN RIVALRY” FROM THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT QUEST FOR THE CORE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 God the Father . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 Ascension-Enthronement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Eschatological Judgment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 AN ANCHOR THAT WON'T HOLD: ANOTHER LOOK AT 1 COR. 15:1-4 . . . 60 Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 AUTOBIOGRAPHY, WIKIALITY AND GOD'S CONGREGATION . . . . . . . . . 77 A LOOK AROUND THE CORNER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
INTRODUCTION The sole excuse for this essay is a desire to participate in the current reexamination and critique of traditional theology among Churches of Christ about Christian unity, and by extension about our self-identification. The focus will be on a collection of provocative sermons preached by Drs. Rubel Shelly and John York entitled The Jesus Proposal: A Theological Framework for Maintaining the Unity of the Body of Christ.1 That book provides a prominent and clear example of a growing trend in a cappella Churches of Christ. It portrays a vigorous reexamination of long cherished ideas in Churches of Christ regarding unity and offers a bold alternative. The authors of The Jesus Proposal are not lone voices crying in the wilderness in their forceful demand for change. It is quite appropriate that their detractors label them as "change agents."2 Churches of Christ today are experiencing a call for reexamination on several fronts, and this call encompasses a whole array of issues and doctrines. To be honest, the ideas and perspectives offered in The Jesus Proposal are cut from the many-colored fabric of contemporary ecclesiastical culture in Churches of Christ, particularly the culture evident in large and urbane congregations. Due to its significance and impact, The Jesus Proposal deservedly serves as a Leafwood Publishers, 2004; this present manuscript was completed some time ago, but for a variety of reasons was put aside until recently. William Woodson, Change Agents and Churches of Christ: A Study in Contemporary Problems with Change Agents among Churches of Christ (Athens, AL: School of Bible Emphasis, 1994), 59-67.
current template for discussion about unity and related practices and beliefs. Many forces, of course, are fueling this current ethos. Some of these forces pulsate with the heartbeat of God, while others, I suspect, rely upon energy that flows from other places. The theme of unity has been vigorously discussed from various perspectives since the earliest days of the Restoration Movement, understandably since the Restoration Movement began as a unity movement. In the spirit of Christian dialogue and discussion I wish to examine some of the presuppositions, methods and conclusions set forth in The Jesus Proposal.
The new perspectives offered in The Jesus Proposal can be more fairly evaluated when 3 Richard T. nothing seems to lie outside the arena of reexamination. Reese. and the Future of the Churches of Christ. 2001. will necessarily be impacted. A negative assessment of the various changes and agents for change in Churches of Christ in the current generation are catalogued by John Waddey. Books about the Change Movement: Reviews and Recommendations. the reasons for the various ways in which we differ from our religious forebears are not mysterious or inexplicable. 1996. Similar. will grow and will take its shape in the context of its surrounding culture(s). . Jack R.5 THE CULTURE OF REEXAMINATION To take a survey of the current rethinking about the identity of the Churches of Christ in America is not a task for the faint of heart. Lutheran. there should be little doubt that a growing majority of the contemporary Churches of Christ are not a clone of the Churches of Christ of the preceding several generations. for good or ill. Hughes. 2004. from the place of the Holy Spirit to the place of homosexuals in the church. Tradition. challenges are also part of the history of several contemporary American denominations. pp.3 There is hardly an area of faith and practice that is not being examined by leaders and members of the Churches of Christ. From the issues of the pastorate to pacifism. Southern Baptist. 307-351. including Presbyterian. and from the role of women to the role of works. Furthermore. both by the synergy and by the intrusion of culture(s). The church of every generation and in every location will exist. Childers. There is nothing either unique or serendipitous about this particular facet of our current disposition. whether secular or sacred. Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America. All organizations. The Crux of the Matter: Crisis. Roman Catholic and Episcopalian. Foster. or at least analogous. Jeff W. Douglas A. Whether one applauds or anathematizes the history and issues of this generation.
4 Students of the Bible and teachers of the church have known since the Patristic Period that there were “difficult texts” or “alleged contradictions” in the Bible. 37:9). In the current generation one now encounters publications from universities associated with Churches of Christ Mark W. however. for others.6 seen in the setting of some of the other topics currently being reexamined. to “breathe into these slain. the validity of the Restoration Principle. "Matthew Twists the Scriptures. S. Those few that were not convinced by the “orthodox” explanations usually left Churches of Christ5 or at least sought employment in universities and seminaries not controlled by Churches of Christ. the church of the living God” (1 Tim. It lies outside the scope of this essay to evaluate these specific challenges in the thinking of the Churches of Christ in regard to the Bible. Hamilton. to provide the reader of The Jesus Proposal with contemporary examples of this climate of critical inquiry. The Bible The nature of the Bible. they threaten to topple and destroy “the pillar and foundation of the truth. as in the days of Ezekiel. V. and. In past generations scholars from Churches of Christ either accepted the traditional explanations for these problems or they held their own contrary judgment in abeyance. McCasland. For some these winds have come to refresh the spiritual air we breathe. its origin and its character are currently under discussion in Churches of Christ. “Transition and Continuity: Biblical Scholarship in Today’s Church of Christ. These examples serve as a weathervane to indicate how forcefully and from which direction these new winds are blowing. 3:15). the nature of hell. They are noted." Journal of Biblical Literature 80 (1961): 143-48. that they may live” (Ezek.” Stone-Campbell Journal 9 (Fall 2006): 187-203. 5 4 . or the nature of fellowship and unity.
Edward William Fudge. J. These scholars argue that terminology like inerrancy is simply no longer helpful.”8 Confusion often arises at this point for "laypeople" since they had always thought that Christian universities affirmed the traditional concept of the inerrancy of the Bible. Cukrowshki.6 Other scholars. James W. Thompson. Sheerer and C. rev. “Is the Bible Inerrant?” in Directions for the Road Ahead. Jimmy. Williams. p. soul-winning preaching of Churches of Christ. TX: ACU Press.9 Basically this doctrine of annihilationism states that the individual sent by God to Hell suffers rapid annihilation after being cast into Hell. continue to affirm the views held in prior generations7 and argue that “There is no biblical authority without inerrancy. Likewise Joel S.” Restoration Quarterly 37 1995. there is disregard for the traditional idea that a lost individual must personally suffer throughout eternity. Williams. 7 8 6 Jividen. 2005. 9 . 1998. Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures.7 that not only acknowledge the problem texts. Kenneth L. Inspiration. 1994). Hamilton. (Carlisle. and Dictation. ed. 39. Mark W. Stability in Change Among Churches of Christ. Churches of Christ historically were committed to belief in and the preaching of the classic Christian doctrines of heaven and hell. UK: The Paternoster Press. Edward P. The Fire that Consumes: Biblical Case for Conditional Immortality. 2002). however. 158-77. vol. The latter certainly played a role in the earlier evangelistic. With the approach. Myers. “Inerrancy. At the present time the frequency and significance of sermons on hell have plummeted drastically in Churches of Christ. Eds. 181. Hell As a conservative and evangelistic fellowship. but also believe that we should move beyond previous conservative answers. 2 (Abilene. some publications have now advocated the untraditional doctrine known as annihilationism. God’s Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture. Moreover. Heart of the Restoration Series. Yeoman Press.
2004).. what are we attempting to restore? Four decades ago Roy B. Eds. he wishes that he “had never presented the sermon.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Texas in 1964.8 Reexamination of this doctrine is seen even in the published thoughts of the well-known preacher.. Robert O. Meaning of Within the Movement. Eerdmans. A.”11 especially where restoration urges “a strict adherence to the pattern of church faith and practice set forth in the New Testament” and where there is a “hermeneutic that treated Scripture as a coherent body of facts and prescriptions. 635-36. He now indicates that his beliefs are no longer held with the same certainty on this point. 1966).”10 The Restoration Principle The Restoration Principle is one manifestation of faith and practice known as “Ecclesiastical Primitivism. Voices of Concern: Critical Studies in Church of Christism (Saint Louis: Mission Messenger. evangelist and emeritus professor of Bible at Harding University. Starting with a sermon preached during a two week Gospel Meeting held in Dallas. Fire in My Bones (Jeremiah 20:9) (n. Jimmy Allen. ed. “Sometimes.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. “Restoration. 13 12 . 639.”12 There have always been voices concerned with whether and how the “Restoration Principle” is valid.” Jimmy Allen now writes. “Restoration. Richard T. Historical Models of. D. the critics ask. 2004. Fife. 13 Just what do we mean. after all. Robert Meyer. Hughes. 220. Jimmy Allen became for decades a popular evangelist on the topic “What is Hell Like?” In later years he reexamined his own earlier presentation on the concept of the “endless punishment” typically associated with hell and now no longer regards his former arguments against annihilationism as cogent and as persuasive as he once did. by restoration? And. Foster et alii.p. Ward wrote an important article entitled “The Restoration 10 11 Jimmy Allen.
Goebel Music. p. Dr. “Can the Christian Faith Survive If Belief in Objective Truth is Abandoned? A Reply to John Castelein. For discussion of the validity of the Restoration Plea in light of philosophical questions regarding objective truth see John D. with a variety of questions. Ward.15 One of the most iconoclastic perspectives was offered quite recently by Prof. Dave Miller. who argued that the entire Restoration Plea and hermeneutic as formulated by Alexander Campbell is a theological failure. “ ‘The Restoration Principle’: A Critical Analysis. 231 views restoration as a never ending attempt and process “to return to God’s perfect way. complaints and suggestions. at the very core of its hermeneutical DNA. Piloting the Strait. so to speak.1 2005. Sain Publications.9 Principle: A Critical Analysis.” 18 17 16 15 14 . unsupportable. or Restoration Plea.” Leaven 13. “because it is the exact opposite of the way the New Testament figures and writers. Castelein.17 As one might expect. “The ‘Women’s Issue’ and the Letter and Spirit of the Law. 2004. Jolivet. Jolivet complains. Behold the Pattern. Russ Dudrey. Kenneson. Surviving the Storms of Change. numerous scholars in scores of essays have addressed the issue of the Restoration Principle. “Can the Restoration Movement Plea Survive if Belief in Objective Truth is Abandoned?” Stone-Campbell Journal 1 1998. Jolivet. Ira J. 47. there are still advocates for the traditional hermeneutic that dominated the Churches of Christ throughout former decades. Star Bible Publications.”14 In the decades since then.18 Roy E. 27-44 and Philip D.” Restoration Quarterly 8 (1965): 197-210. including the apostle Paul and Jesus himself.”16 This particular criticism represents but one facet of the multifaceted reexamination and rejection of the hermeneutical foundations of the Restoration Movement.” Stone-Campbell Journal 2 1999. 1991. “Restorationist Hermeneutics among the Churches of Christ: Why Are We at an Impasse?” Restoration Quarterly 30 (1988):17-42. The Churches of Christ are flawed in their approach to Scripture. Goebel Music Publications. Ira J. John Waddey. A Guidebook for Assessing Change in Churches of Christ. 43-56. Others question the validity of these foundations in light of current philosophical issues. interpreted their authoritative scriptures. p. “Who’s in the Fellowship?” in Directions for the Road Ahead. 1996. Carl Mitchell.
though our exegetical understanding is shared by a large number of scholars beyond our own ecclesiastical borders. Karl. While there are several points at which the doctrines and practices of Restoration churches are distinct from many other churches.10 Fellowship and Unity The twin issues of unity and fellowship have understandably been in the spotlight in this current generation. Robert H. The requirement of adult baptism has long been a wall of separation between Churches of Christ and other churches. Barth. Catholic. and Orthodox churches. the issue itself is too insignificant to divide modern believers from one another. “Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament. Who is my Brother? 21st Century Christian.19 the former because it is one of the foundational themes of the Restoration Movement and the latter because in the judgment of many. R. Some suggest that while the practice of infant baptism may indeed be contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. two issues in particular have created the greatest obstacles to active fellowship and unity with other believers. 21 . These are the teaching that the initial experience of God's gracious salvation includes baptism for the remission of sins based upon personal faith and. LA: Howard Publishing Company. G. Jimmy Allen. Baptism in the New Testament (New York: St. is the teaching that in corporate worship singing should be congregational and a cappella. 1991).” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 2 (Spring 1998): 6-17.20 There have been increasing efforts to recognize the validity of the conversion of adult believers immersed outside Churches of Christ21 as well as pedo-baptist believers in Protestant. LaGard Smith. second. 152ff. Beasley-Murray. Stein. Martin’s Press. 2003. sectarianism has become untenable. Re-Baptism: What One Must Know to be Born Again (West Monroe. 19 20 F. 1962). The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism. trans. Ernest A. Payne (London: SCM Press. 1954).
Orthodox and Protestant theologians.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. . .11 Others brush aside suggestions that adult baptism is more biblical than infant baptism and argue that “Indeed. Even if one thinks the authors Shelly and York are out on a limb.24 As noted earlier. even a limb about to break.: Leafwood Publishers. especially among large urban congregations of Churches of Christ.23 Unity meetings are being directed by prominent preachers who want to lead in reconnecting the a cappella churches with the Independent Christian Churches. 2005). They are part of a growing and Ralph K. “Infant Baptism and the Boundaries of Christian Fellowship. 49-68. this brief survey was intended only to better appreciate the larger context of the reexamination presented in The Jesus Proposal. the two views [believer’s baptism and infant baptism] share many commonalities. its importance for discussions of unity. Chris DeWelt.p. it should be said that they are not out there alone. They view it rather as an issue of church tradition or personal conscience. 2005. thereby reuniting separated siblings. p. convictions about congregational a cappella worship are declining. Jack R. College Press. Hawkins.”22 Even though the doctrinal understanding among Churches of Christ regarding the importance of congregational a cappella worship has numerous antecedents in the theological writings of Catholic. The Other Side of the Keyboard. The Body Broken: Embracing the Peace of Christ in a Fragmented Church (n. in terms of their purpose . each of which needs the other to achieve theological completeness. 24 23 22 . Reese. A growing number of religious leaders and theological educators belonging to a cappella congregations have left the convictions of their forbearers that this liturgical issue is a matter of biblical perspective. “Restoration Forums. 642. but not eliminating. 123ff. the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.” Stone-Campbell Journal 5 2002. Milton Jones. [and] may be complementary. thereby reducing.
293. to slowly emulate the journey the Disciples of Christ started approximately one hundred years ago. His thoughtful essay. offered some realistic and poignant observations about the wrong paths taken by the Disciples of Christ for much of the 20th century. Ronald E.”25 Ronald E. “The Irony of the Twentieth-Century Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Making it to the Mainline Just at the Time of its Disestablishment.” Midstream-An Ecumenical Journal 28. along with the sense of uniqueness which had been a key element of our identity.3 1989. a longtime theologian and historian for the Disciples of Christ. perhaps unintentionally. Osborn. 25 . “The Irony of the Twentieth-Century Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Making it to the Mainline Just at the Time of its Disestablishment.12 influential number of leaders in Churches of Christ whose efforts will probably guide sectors of Churches of Christ. p. Prof. This strong desire for recognition and acceptability “prompted us to downplay distinctive emphases in our tradition. Since all paths have a destination and lead somewhere. Osborn.” highlights the Disciples of Christ’s 20th century quest to be regarded as a ‘mainline’ church. it is difficult to imagine that those who step out onto the path taken by the Disciples of Christ will not discover that their heirs will end up at the same destination as the modern Disciples of Christ.
at the grassroots level. pp. Christian. 538-54.” as stated by the authors. D. 1997. the authors strive “to explore. Douglas A.”27 The book contains numerous references to Scripture and the authors’ desire to present their ideas “Strictly from a biblical perspective” is a goal that must be applauded. . “Unity. 2nd ed. An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century. “is that Christians from all denominations can benefit from . pp. 149. The Jesus Proposal. their attempt to cogently present a “theological framework for maintaining the unity of the body of Christ” calls for more examination in regard to the evidence they gather. “Ecumenical Theology. 9-10. pp.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. . 21.” in The Modern Theologians. Foster. 30 . and offer a proposal for Christian unity that is so thoroughly Jesus-centered that it will commend itself to thoughtful believers from many quarters. There is no precise definition of the term “unity” in The Jesus Proposal. the issue of unity had often been associated with 26 27 28 29 The Jesus Proposal. to the arguments they make and to the subsequent conclusions they draw. Michael Root. the Postmodern atmosphere of the twenty-first century. The Jesus Proposal.13 POSTMODERN ADVOCATES AND FRUSTRATED CAMBPELLITES “The ‘proposal’ of the The Jesus Proposal. . p.” meaning specifically that “we can experience relational unity in Christ — unity greater and more important than theological agreement . experience. .30 In the history of the Churches of Christ. p.”26 In the book itself. probably because both the concept and implementation of unity have been elusive and widely debated in both the Restoration Movement29 and in the ecumenical movement at large. Ford. . F. Ed. 754-58.28 Nevertheless.
”31 Since the authors are attracted to postmodernity. and flexibility. their lack of emphasis upon the significance of doctrine for Christian unity comes as no surprise. 7:29). Their suggestion that the emphasis upon doctrine or doctrinal uniformity in the pursuit of unity is some recent 31 32 The Jesus Proposal. Furthermore."32 This postmodern adaptation of Jesus creates significant difficulties for a historian of Second Temple Judaism or the early Roman Empire. "rather than offering answers. And he stays as I work through them in my own muddleheaded way. p. he loved reframing the circumstances with questions. He rarely responded with answers. but none of them completely encapsulates it. pp. it seems hardly probable that Jesus was repeatedly tortured and brutally killed primarily because he clarified questions and reframed circumstances. and not as their teachers of the Law" (Matt. 9-10. The Jesus Proposal." this new Jesus "asks clarifying questions. That's what Jesus did. it is understandable that the Jesus whom they present must be reconfigured to be a postmodern himself. association. Accordingly. This new “I don’t offer answers” Messiah hardly explains the presence of the controversy stories in the Gospels or why Matthew says of Jesus that he “taught as one who had authority.14 questions such as “Whom do we need to evangelize?” “Whom do we call sister and brother?” “With whom do we jointly participate in Christian ministry and worship?” “Whom do we believe is going to heaven?” “With whom can we establish Christian union?” Each of these questions obviously intersects the issue of unity. In light of the authors’ acknowledged attraction to postmodernism. . 118. The reader learns early on of the authors’ enthusiasm for the contribution that “the postmodern atmosphere of the twenty-first century” can make to Christian unity by its affirmation of “inclusion.
The contemporary church must move beyond its previous doctrinaire orientation. Keep away from them” (Rom. Amidst several references to Luther's many virtues and accomplishments by the power of God. The Jesus Proposal. p. reflects the ethos of postmodernity more than it reflects an informed grasp of biblical theology or biblical missiology. 16:17) harmonizes more with the emphasis of Acts than the emphasis of The Jesus Proposal. clearly reveal that doctrine and doctrinal uniformity were long ago placed on high pedestals by the church. pp. "he constantly defended purity of doctrine. both of the Patristic as well as of the Reformation period. then all the pagans in the world could be converted without the church having to use doctrine in any serious way. . 92. 117-18. On the Death of Luther. One is reminded of Philip Melanchthon's funeral oration at the death of Martin Luther. 33 34 Philip Melachthon."33 The authors’ support of statements to the effect that if Christians would only live authentic Christian lives.34 Such postures that marginalize the significance of doctrine are alien to the faith and practice of the early church. Bible Wars and sectarian habits of the past. Melachthon remarks concerning Martin Luther that.15 phenomenon in Christianity belies much of the history of the Christian faith. Paul’s statement that the saints in Rome must “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. cf. particularly as they are portrayed in Acts in the summary of the earliest followers of Jesus who were “devoted to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). The abundant evidence and clarion voice of church history. but it will be welcoming a Trojan Horse into the camp if it gives too much credence to a paradigm that neglects the significance of teaching and doctrine.
William (1888-1963)” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement.” StoneCampbell Journal 6 2003. p. pp. The change from sheer intolerance to this kind of tolerance is illustrated by the following piece of doggerel: Time was when sects would rail and fight To show that only they possessed the light: But now they’re eager to display The virtues of a milder way. Blowers. are germane to this point:36 But church union cannot be merely a matter of forgetting our differences. “There’s Such a Thing as Biblical Truth.” often “represented the British Churches of Christ at the World Council of Churches. regardless of their community.” and certainly “was convinced that the Stone-Campbell heritage had much to offer the modern ecumenical movement. 215-16. William Robinson. And from my perspective.35 When a new paradigm ends up with a Bible without any objective truth that is universally true for all men.16 Ronnie van der Poll has made a helpful observation in this regard. St. obscurantism and doctrinal sectarianism in Churches of Christ. it clearly surrenders too much that is important in the process. attempts to accomplish far more than that. The Biblical Doctrine of the Church. not if there is to be anything to unite worth uniting. “Robinson. I am certainly in support of anyone who wishes to responsibly use Scripture to beat back obvious remnants of mean-spiritedness. The words of the important ecumenist from the Stone-Campbell Movement. we have to wonder if such a paradigm is still a Christian one. Too.” He became the “recognized spokesman for British ‘free churches’ in general in the emerging ecumenical movement. and It’s a Good Thing. and acting as if we really were one. however. Those in the a cappella congregations may not know of William Robinson. being decent to each other. 36 35 . Louis: Bethany Press. The Jesus Proposal. 654. 1955. William Robinson. It is not the mere question of amiability. 218-19. He was a “theologian and ecumenical activist of the British Churches of Christ in the mid-twentieth century.” Paul M.
Consequently. As I repeatedly read and considered the arguments presented in The Jesus Proposal for . the suggested alternative seriously softens the power of the Gospel to transform lives and typically introduces limitations to “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27).17 Which. with impunity. They thought they could select. to the degree that it neglects the whole will of God. If we neglect the biblical role of doctrine in Christian life and unity. A sane posture would lead us to learn from our painful past so that we do not wander in dim alleyways characterized by imbalance. This kind of attitude will get us nowhere except to an unruly anarchism. which will be worse than the sectarianism it sought to cure. We will remain in the dark alleys of church history. "pick and choose. one of the destructive paths that led earlier generations within the Stone-Campbell Movement into some dark alleys was its "pick and choose" approach to Scripture. seems to say That none are wrong and all are right.” From the perspective of this definition of insanity. there is evidence of renewed insanity in the StoneCampbell Movement. truncation and a consumer-minded hermeneutic of Scripture. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. As most would recognize. they camped primarily upon the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. Rather than determining God’s truth and the mission of his elect on the basis of “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). if we continue to give ourselves over to any truncated. A statement attributed to Albert Einstein says. which parts of the Scripture they wanted to use in a normative way." approach to doctrine. Then. Churches of Christ paid a high price for their error in neglecting the Gospels and the Old Testament. spite of logic. they basically ignored the remainder of Scripture to their own detriment. it seems to me.
the White Pages of heaven.18 “maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ. that the Lamb's Book of Life. they retained the Neither the Orthodox churches nor the Roman Catholic churches nor the Southern Baptist denomination (just to mention the largest Protestant denomination) would accept into church membership anyone who was not baptized. or perhaps assumptions. had to be in Christian union on the earth. Thus everyone who was headed to heaven. If the term “pluralism” seems too harsh. and typically not baptized by them. namely. Orthodox. In particular. they heard teaching and preaching. the Churches of Christ. it became absolutely necessary in their thinking to fashion a new view of church unity. By thinking in this manner. Problems would naturally arise as in their own theological maturation they came to realize that the neighborhoods of heaven were becoming more and more populated by those outside the "one true church" of their childhood indoctrination. 37 . perhaps ad nauseam. is basically identical to the Membership Directory of the one true church. or Evangelical churches. Protestant. What is there about the theological framework of Shelly and York “for maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ” that makes it so untenable to most churches for the past 2000 years? What perspective.” I could not always follow the steps of thought that led the authors down their path. of necessity. in their history. in particular a unity that reflected on earth the realities of heaven. Accordingly. a path that began in their own personal participation in sectarianism and ended in a seemingly pluralistic paradigm for Christian unity. it should be noted at the outset that the unity paradigm offered in The Jesus Proposal would not be acceptable to major representatives of either Catholic. brought the authors of The Jesus Proposal to an understanding that is basically unacceptable to the majority of the Christian world37 and to a place that is so remote from their ecclesiastical family of origin? It seems to me that part of the answer lies in the fact that Shelly and York are still working on the basis of some of the assumptions and perspectives that they were taught decades ago in traditional Churches of Christ.
that the authors brought to their proposal. salus extra ecclesiam non est. even though they might not be in unity on earth. Stated succinctly in the following phrase from the 3rd century catholic author Cyprian. this conviction about the linkage between the earthly church and the population of heaven has been around for centuries. it seems to me. this willing acknowledgement of Christians in the denominations did not lead the early thinkers in the Restoration Movement to dilute and compromise their understanding of the biblical requirements for Christian unity on earth. Of greater significance for this discussion. is the fact that this view clearly did not characterize the outlook of the early thinkers in the Restoration Movement such as Alexander Campbell. of the essential doctrines of the New Testament. "there is no salvation outside the church. To be fair to Shelly and York. and Robert Richardson. This strong linkage between the question of who goes to heaven and who belongs to the true church was part of the sectarian heritage and baggage. and was not invented by thinkers in the Restoration Movement. however. clearly affirmed that there were Christians destined for heaven in various denominations.19 paradigm of their youth that the membership of church and the population of heaven are essentially identical. The Campbells." This close connection between the salvation of others and their belonging to the "correct church" was a part of traditional Catholic theology for well over a millennium and a part of traditional doctrine in Churches of Christ for most of the last 100 years. Barton Stone. but not the only one. for example. Their recognition of the importance of God’s truth expressed through doctrine was not to be offered on the altar of their yearnings for Christian unity. They rightly recognized that church union was one. however. Classic Roman Catholic doctrine held to a view similar to that held by the Churches of . In contrast to Shelly and York.
Walter M. One force comes from the desire for unity while another equally strong force comes from the desire to remain faithfully submitted to the authority of Scripture. The Scriptures and their “Catholic Principles on Ecumenism. Association Press. Beyond the sadness there is a painful tension created by these bi-polar attractions. the authors of The Jesus Proposal began their journey long before the term "postmodernism" was a regular part of their vocabulary. in both faith and in practice.38 believing now that there are “brethren” outside the Roman church. I suspect that like so many others who were nurtured by rigid sectarianism (with all its baggage). 1966). The attitude of Roman Catholics toward Christian believers outside the "true church" mellowed following Vatican II. It was perhaps because the early Restoration thinkers did not need to escape a Restoration Movement characterized by a strident sectarianism that they. It is my conviction that God's sovereignty is certainly not constrained by the Scriptures. In some ways this current Catholic understanding is closer to the view of the early leaders in the Restoration Movement that preceded Vatican II by a century and a half. Abbott (New York: Herder and Herder. 38 . even though the faith and practice of the church certainly must be. were able to affirm the faith of others while also remaining faithful to their own views of the teaching of Scripture in matters of unity.” in The Documents of Vatican II. 345-46. unlike Shelly and York. There is an understandable sadness experienced by all believers who perceive the wide chasm that separates the unity for which Jesus prayed (John 17) and the realities of the divisions in modern Christianity. This leads me to think that it is not solely postmodernism that drives The Jesus Proposal.20 Christ for most of the 20th century regarding the “lostness” of those outside the one true church. ed.
21 teachings were written to instruct and guide the elect of God. according to Jesus. McGarvey. present. will be blessed at the final judgment since they. In the book of Jonah the Ninevites believed the Word of God. and future. New Commentary on Acts of Apostles. unity or a place among the elect of God. Cincinnati. unlike some of Jesus’ contemporaries. would have imagined that this response by the Ninevites made them candidates for Jewish fellowship. 1892. since obviously God -past. however. but certainly not God himself. received the mercy of God and. 18:4). considered the possibility that individuals could be saved in the name of Christ even if they "do not know him or believe in him. Being a proponent of "the whole will of God" means that I must embrace with equal vigor what Scripture teaches about the fact that God overlooked ignorance among some of the idolaters at Athens (Acts 17:30) and that the Apostle Paul explicitly affirms that ignorance (while no excuse) is certainly a mitigating circumstance in God’s evaluation and treatment of people in regard to their salvation (1 Tim. W. heard the Word of God. 135:6. J. even though some would apparently be saved. . repented at the message of God’s word. Infants will be saved. Jer. repented and obeyed it (Luke 11:28-32). Neither Jonah nor Jesus. likewise points to the important distinction between citizenship in heaven and membership and union in the body of Christ. The issue of the ultimate salvation of infants and children. for example. for example. When contemplating issues of salvation I clearly do not intend to neglect or dismiss the church’s proclamation that salvation resides in God’s work in Christ. Ohio: The Standard Publishing Foundation."does whatever he pleases" (Pss. 1:13). This outlook certainly has approval in well recognized authorities in Churches of Christ. McGarvey. 115:3."39 I hardly think that Paul’s and Luke’s understanding about God forgiving Athenians would have encouraged Paul to seek unity with them. W. but they are hardly disciples of Jesus and 39 J.
22 members of the Body of Christ. .
but rather accomplished by the excommunication and physical punishment of other believers.23 HISTORIOGRAPHY AND GEORGE ORWELL The Jesus Proposal is a mixture of various types of arguments and appeals. As such. Anabaptists teachers. the price of achieving unity in earlier centuries was often not the compassionate persuasion of the opposition. those who would draw lessons and principles about church unity from earlier generations of church leaders should proceed with great caution. . The Jesus Proposal presents arguments that appeal to church history and to the lives and the teachings of earlier theologians. entering the arenas of church history. autobiography and pragmatism will be necessary in order to give a fair hearing to the many facets of The Jesus Proposal. theology. autobiography and at times pragmatism to advocate their new basis for unity. including church history. either by ecclesiastical or civil authorities. John Calvin. rather than because of them. exegesis. These names represent important traditions and historical perspectives beyond those of the Roman church and the various Orthodox communities of faith. including Martin Luther. It has been pointed out many times before that history. for example. Sometimes. theology. can have the annoying habit of teaching us more than we asked it to. The authors use church history. While the arena of exegesis will certainly be at the center of my response. It seems only fair to respond to this provocative work by examining some of the major thrusts of the book itself. Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Charles Wesley. The church's romanticized view of the unity of earlier centuries is sometimes nothing more than naive hagiography and pious wishful thinking. History’s candid and unexpected answers often come to us in spite of our own questions.
Notwithstanding one’s opinion of the theology and of the leaders of the Church Councils of the 4th and 5th centuries (and sometimes their actions did leave an odor). Pride is followed by cruelty and persecution so that now scarcely anyone is able to endure another who differs at all from him.” Unity at that price was not a particular blessing to the church or to the surrounding world. ostensibly for Christ’s sake. The defense of these methods. “The end justified the means. 40 Sebastian Castellio. Most of us recognize that something was profoundly wrong with the MedievalByzantine and Reformation efforts at unity that led believers to torture. Lest one think this is some modern contrivance and caricature. For more than 1000 years a supposedly legitimate means to achieve Christian unity totally dishonored the spirit and values of what Jesus and the Apostolic church taught and lived. faith and practice. listen to the words of the 16th century Christian author. let us agree that in the name of Jesus Christ believers should neither seek nor preserve unity by making refugees of. both for the benefits of unity as well as for the need to get everyone under the same orthodox umbrella of truth. rests on the conviction that. Concerning Heretics (1554):122-23 . to abuse and to assault other believers. or one’s appreciation for Luther and Calvin. Lamentably. Sebastion Castellio. At times an intended panacea to cure Christian division produced greater fatalities than the illness of schism. many of these efforts over the centuries scarred and disfigured the Body of Christ as badly as any division ever did.24 Long before the Restoration Movement. by killing or by slandering other Christians. church theologians struggled to unify all believers. written from the prison in which he died.40 Men are puffed up with knowledge or with false opinion of knowledge and look down upon others. I presume.
” One is reminded of an episode recorded in the work Agricola written by the Roman historian Tacitus. nevertheless there is hardly any sect which does not condemn all others and desire to reign alone. division to the church. if we have ears to hear. But what of those who lived on the outside of Roman culture and were the objects of Rome’s doctrine of divine manifest destiny? Rome’s unifying influence was far from peaceful to them. can also illumine the antithetical experiences and perceptions of the unity engendered by these ostensible “ecumenical councils. There are lessons for us to learn from the wishful thinking that the great ecumenical councils of the patristic period served to engender or maintain unity in the church in the spirit of Christ. stakes and gallows and this miserable rage to visit daily penalties upon those who differ from the mighty about matters hitherto unknown. History from the mid-twentieth century could provide us with some insight at this point.25 Although opinions are almost as numerous as men. In the last half century we have begun to realize and appreciate how radically different this colonialism was experienced and perceived by the oppressive colonial powers on the one hand and those oppressed colonies and peoples on the other hand. The attitudes of most modern westerners as well as those who lived inside the Roman Empire have led to the repeated praise of Pax Romana. imprisonments. Hence arise banishments. Since WWII we have seen a radical rearrangement of nations and boundaries. chains. more of a pox than a pax for . at least to this point. primarily as European colonial powers surrendered their chokehold on vast regions of other continents. The same kind of antithetical experience that went with colonialism and which is articulated by postcolonial theory. There is now a postcolonial recognition that the view from the bottom is usually not the same as the view from the top. for so many centuries disputed. From certain perspectives these councils and bishops brought painful and permanent. and not yet cleared up.
and rape and then give it the hypocritical name of “empire” and by their imperialism they make a region desolate and call it peace (Agricola 30). We join the story on the verge of a massive battle between the Roman army and a tribal leader in Britain named Galgacus and his army. slaughter. lasting for centuries. obviously the modern ecumenical movement and the paradigm offered in the Jesus Proposal is far removed from violence! My point is rather the serious impact of cultural values upon unity models. Just like 4th century Christians adopted the Roman Empire model for important aspects of their unity paradigm (submission to worldly methods to achieve kingdom goals) so "postmodern" and other efforts at modern ecumenism seem to be a mere reflection of western pluralism. Galgacus encourages his soldiers into battle with an “outsider’s” perspectives on Pax Romana. plunder.26 them. a minimalist interpretation of the gospel. The point of comparison is not the violence. The authors of The Jesus Proposal make important arguments based upon a certain understanding of people and events in Restoration history as well as in broader church . and the ascendency of consumer Christianity? History teaches its best lessons and provides the best pedagogy when the “stuff of history” has not already been forced into the Procrustean Bed of a particular ideology. one is forced to ask whether this is the kind of unity that Jesus and the Apostles longed for. It leads painfully to another question: Will not later generations look back at some of our contemporary efforts at unity with equal dismay and similar disappointment. he states. Preconceived ideas and partisan commitments can infect the retelling of religious history as well as political history. As one reads of the barbaric and ungodly treatment of “unorthodox” Christians by other ostensibly “orthodox” Christians. The Romans.
If The Jesus Proposal suggested only modest adjustments to the Restoration Plea. With the recent celebration of the 60th anniversary of VJ Day. religious and cultural propaganda bothered Orwell tremendously. and he made numerous points that we all should learn from. observers were reminded afresh of the complexities of history and the dangerous tendency to misuse history to establish and sustain one’s preferred identity and reputation. Given the dramatic appeals in the book based upon church history. If new views and paradigms are constructed and advocated based upon the telling of stories from the past. the burden of proof rests with the authors of this new proposal. He was thoroughly disillusioned by the “propaganda as . of course. military and cultural behaviors. The 20th century author George Orwell frequently addressed the issue of propaganda and revisionist history through his novels and essays. I give this contemporary illustration just to highlight how pervasive this issue is in appealing to one’s own view of history. The pervasive tendency to rewrite the past in order to satisfy the needs of contemporary political. the standards of historical accuracy should be above reproach.27 history. The nature and extent of the behavior of the Japanese Empire throughout Southeast Asia in the 1930s and 1940s is remembered quite differently in modern Japanese history books than in the modern history books of the same region written by Korean and Chinese historians and scholars. but also even volatile and explosive because of disputed political. One nation’s former hero is all too often another nation’s most savage nightmare. And. The contrast in the collective memory of these different peoples is not only sharp at times. then the past must be accurately depicted. they in fact are calling for a coup d'etat in the hermeneutical methods and general direction of Churches of Christ. however. it should bother also us. Since. religious. then it would be easier to overlook their suspicious retelling of Restoration History.
“Who controls the past controls the future. highlights the techniques. available from http://www. In Orwell’s world of Newspeak and Doublethink he wonders if truth can even exist and be recognized.com/orwell/essays/asiplease1944-01.” Orwell’s words are a solemn reminder to all that history is often vulnerable to misrepresentation and distortion. One of his famous novels. There are innumerable instances in history where authors revised history to articulate a private ideology or buttress a particular spin with the hope of controlling the future. later through Nazi rhetoric and even later through Communist lies. In the context of the 21st century intellectual climate that has invaded much historical writing. “As I Please. and modern readers should be informed that historians of Restoration History can themselves be advocates of certain paradigm shifts. 4 February 1944.htm#Feb4. Religious history has never been spared the bane of revisionism. 1984.” Tribune. Who controls the present controls the past.28 history” phenomenon as he experienced it through British imperialism and colonialism (pax Britannica). unlike the southern Churches of Christ the authors grew up in. truth is often conceived of as no more than each individual’s experience of the truth. methods and dangers of revisionist tendencies with these words. truth becomes merely a personal construct based on how we “connect the dots” based upon our human experiences. 41 . Internet.”41 The Jesus Proposal presents a view of the first generation Protestant Reformers like Luther and Calvin. Part of Orwell’s antidote to this highly subjective view of truthfulness was captured in one of his particularly insightful statements: “A certain degree of truthfulness is possible so long as it is admitted that a fact may be true even if you don't like it. accessed 21 February 2007. as a “kinder George Orwell.netcharles.
one characterized by acceptance and toleration of one’s antagonists. John Calvin argued vigorously over doctrinal issues and on one occasion had a dissenting believer burned at the stake.”46 Whatever weight one assigns to the 42 43 The Jesus Proposal. 185. The Christian in Society. 47. all in the name of God and spiritual truth. 56-7. Alexander Campbell did not and would not form a Christian union with non-immersed believers in spite of his “baptism-is-not-necessary-for-salvation” theology reflected in the famous “Lunenburg Letter. 177. 44 45 46 Michael Servetus in 1553. “The Lunenburg Letter.42 This is an unrealistic view of aspects of that century.44 Both the Protestants and Catholics of the 16th century maimed and killed hundreds of Anabaptists. 65 Martin Luther. he certainly had no qualms in demonizing and expelling Christian opponents. pp. 268. The religious rhetoric and behavior of the 16th century can hardly be characterized as irenic and non-judgmental.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. 126-28. In my opinion it is crucial that we do not recast the ideas of the Protestant Reformers or the Campbells in ways that portray them as thinking and sounding just like we wished they had thought and sounded. 498-99.43 and while Luther did argue against killing one’s Christian opponents. For the Lunenburg Letter. see Leroy Garrett. Like it or not. in Luther’s Works. but with the caveat that one must be careful not to merely recreate these early leaders in our own image. Luther advocated that the homes. p. shops and synagogues of Jews should be burned to the ground. On the Jews and Their Lies. I concur. 1971). . The Jesus Prop[osal. pp. For the record. ed. Franklin Sherman (Philadelphia: Fortress Press.29 and gentler” type of piety. The authors of The Jesus Proposal45 believe that religious significance and leadership should still be given to earlier Restoration thinkers such as Alexander Campbell. vol.
30 thinkers of the Restoration Movement in formulating a contemporary unity plea. Specifically. which cannot withstand the test of historical realities and ecclesiastical 47 48 49 50 The Jesus Proposal. the selective use of the historical sources found in The Jesus Proposal (whether intentional or not) is certainly not commendable. pp.” 49 This conviction of Thomas Campbell’s is the very perspective that The Jesus Proposal rejects and strives in earnest to overturn. Thomas Campbell insisted that unity be based upon obedience to Christ “in all things according to the Scriptures” and upon believers’ commitment to “the same rule. 56-8.50 It seems disingenuous to imply that the Campbells would have applauded and supported the notions advocated in The Jesus Proposal. it would be misleading to suggest that the early Restoration leaders would embrace the paradigm of unity articulated in The Jesus Proposal. pp.” and at other times Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address is cited as a precedent. 56-7. of recreating the past in our own image or within our own comfort zone is certainly nothing new. truth will not be well served if we reconstruct the theology of the Campbells to make their beliefs and spirituality fit into Procrustean Beds shaped by the personal likes and dislikes of the modern historian. The Jesus Proposal. This human tendency.” the “same mind” and the “same judgment. Stone’s “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. p. It seems to me that this portrayal of the early Restoration thinkers consists of too much wishful thinking.48 While this appeal to these early Restoration documents has rhetorical value for persuasion and advocacy. Nevertheless. pp. In some places The Jesus Proposal47 approves the spirit and orientation of Barton W. The Jesus Proposal. The Jesus Proposal. which stalks all of us. 213 . 46-7.
Given the Campbells’ antipathy to widespread denominationalism and division in the Body of Christ. Louis: Christian Publishing Co. Isaac Errett. p. 53 The Jesus Proposal. and a union depending on their seeing alike can never be. they would be stunned to learn of writers invoking their names and publications with approval. The marginalization of concern for doctrine is expressed in the following quotation. Cincinnati. p. this assessment fails to cohere with the 2000-year-old identification of the church.31 history.”53 In any event. 3:15).”52 Each reader will have to decide whether the authors of The Jesus Proposal are correct in assessing the great diversity and divisions within the history of Christianity as no more than “Christians from different franchises. But there is nothing inherently sinful about varieties of understanding.. March 5. . intensified in the theology of the Restoration Movement. 1871. and practice that create different denominations.51 They [intelligent and decent people] join different political parties. These differences of view are in fact what created denominationalism. They read some biblical texts differently and are members of different denominations. p. A Sermon Preached in the Central Christian Church. 7. St. taste. as a fellowship “devoted to the teaching of the apostles” (Acts 2:42) and striving with vigor to faithfully be “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 1888. while at the same time marginalizing their concern for doctrinal unity. 64. A second generation Restoration thinker named Isaac Errett was convinced that believers could understand the central teachings of Scripture alike and was displeased with pessimistic assessments such as “it is simply impossible for them to see alike. 214. The True Basis of Christian Union. 51 52 The Jesus Proposal.
680. “Sermon of the Law. Christians should not take too seriously the doctrinal errors of others. E. The authors attempt to present a view of God that neutralizes the sectarian judgementalism that they had experienced in their youth. Toward this goal a story about king Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 30 is appropriated in a two-page section captioned “A Precedent to Guide Us.55 54 55 The Jesus Proposal.32 KING HEZEKIAH AND THE REMOVAL OF “RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY” AND “SECTARIAN RIVALRY” FROM THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT In addition to the historical difficulties and revisionist church history found within The Jesus Proposal. they have prevailed throughout the two thousand years of Christian history. . Even though Alexander Campbell’s “Sermon on the Law” inadvertently gave impetus to the “lovehate” relationship between the Churches of Christ and the Old Testament. Their particular strategy at this point is to argue that for the sake of unity. even when these practices and beliefs fly in the face of Scripture.” Restoration Quarterly 29 (1987):71-85.54 This vignette from the Old Testament was perhaps chosen to partially atone for a history of embarrassing neglect and misuse of the Old Testament by the Churches of Christ. Ferguson. Ferguson. 196-97.” Encyclopedia of Stone-Campbell Movement. similar problems are manifest in particular characterizations of narratives located in Scripture. in Churches of Christ. pp. p.” a precedent which the authors use in an effort to demolish “some of the Sataninspired and human-erected walls” of sectarian division in Churches of Christ. “Alexander Campbell's 'Sermon on the Law': A Historical and Theological Examination. and which at times they themselves promoted. we have no monopoly on these types of hermeneutical issues and blind spots. a shorter discussion is available in E.
Every human being living after Noah deserved to die since God’s diagnosis is “every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 3:17). but the Lord constrained his wrath and promised with the rainbow not to treat humans as they . These guests that decided to respond positively to Hezekiah’s summons did not have time and opportunity to fulfill Mosaic ritual purifications which meant that intercessory prayer was required since they would have to eat the Passover meal in a fashion that was “contrary to what was written” [in the Law of Moses] (2 Chron. 10:11) and to make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. One must applaud the authors’ convictions. 30:18-20).33 Basically Hezekiah. First of all. laws and prophecies “were written down as warnings for us” (1 Cor. demonstrated in their use of the book of 2 Chronicles. I would. voice three concerns about this reconstruction of the Hezekiah story and the suggested ecumenical implications drawn from it. 8:21). God not only spared him. Not all of the Israelites from the northern tribes came to this “ecumenical” Passover banquet arranged by Hezekiah. spiritual precedence and examples from the Old Testament. however. however. king of the southern tribe of Judah. these Old Testament stories. invites fellow Israelites from the remaining northern tribes that were not totally destroyed and exiled generations earlier in the Assyrian Captivity to come to Zion to partake of a communal Passover Meal. 4:13-15). but also protected him (Gen. Though it has often been unpopular to think so. this approach acknowledges the intent of God through the Old Testament. Obviously Cain deserved to die for fratricide. in seeking theological affirmation. one doesn’t have to wait for the post-exilic summary of Hezekiah’s reign by the Chronicler to know that God doesn’t punish individuals every time they act contrary to his revealed will. As Paul observed.
as premature when one ends this discussion with a reference to “the prayer of Good King Hezekiah for those who are flawed in certain . 30:6-9). Intercessory prayer is a rich theme in Scripture. . it is anachronistic to suppose that Hezekiah is arranging an ecumenical meeting with the northern tribes to reunite in a restored twelve-tribe confederacy where all tribes had equal standing. the God of their fathers. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him (2 Chron. Serve the LORD your God. . . It strikes me. . which he has consecrated forever. The king’s appeal to the fellow Israelites in the North is laced with threats of divine wrath for disobedience. however. Do not be stiff-necked. . as your fathers were. These words and sentiments from 2 Chronicles hardly bespeak tolerance. pluralism and the flexibility advocated by postmodernism: People of Israel. We should not forget that Hezekiah is the ruler of a theocratic monarchy in the South. 24:14). Second. . Without a doubt all participants in this modern reexamination would benefit from becoming more like king Hezekiah in regard to intercessory prayer. Do not be like your fathers and brothers. . The list from the Old Testament of chapters and verses that teach this conviction is rather long. so that his fierce anger will turn away from you. Come to the sanctuary. David knew that it was preferable to “fall into the hands of the LORD. Even when punishment was deserved for sin. and it has certainly not been emphasized enough in either past or present discussions about unity. . . and when those Israelites from the North came to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem it required the denunciation of the religious sins of their ancestors and their own past. for his mercy is great. but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (2 Sam. submit to the LORD.34 deserved. who were unfaithful to the LORD. return to the LORD.
and not only their remote ancestors. This joint participation in the Jerusalem Passover required the repudiation by the northern Tribes of the religious heritage of their current families.35 interpretations and practices”56 without making reference to the fuller context. When studied within the context of its literary unit. 197. one will miss a salient point of this Hezekiah story if it is not read in the context of the larger unit of 2 Chronicles 29-31. . In fact. the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property (2 Chron. “in the 56 The Jesus Proposal. When Hezekiah came into power the Jerusalem Temple was in disuse and for some time the worship of the Jews had not been done in accordance with the teaching of the Law of Moses. Finally. After they had destroyed all of them. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh. The Chronicler’s own theology about this episode and what he meant by “setting one’s heart” on seeking God is sadly understated by Shelly and York. the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah. smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. long before Hezekiah. The pardon for which Hezekiah prayed was for “everyone who sets his heart on seeking God — the LORD. p. not from doctrinal indifference and religious inclusivism. 30:19).” Making decisions to worship in ways “contrary to what was written” arose from crisis and necessity. the importance of Hezekiah’s restoration of the Temple and its proper worship are readily apparent. the God of his fathers” (2 Chron. allowing persons unclean because of contact with a corpse or unavailable because of traveling on a distant journey to partake in the Passover at a later service. 31:1). When all this had ended. Therefore many of Hezekiah’s decisions regarding the Temple and its ceremonies had to be conducted from the perspective of an “emergency situation. God had already stipulated exceptions.
This punctilious mindset of Hezekiah (liturgically speaking my way or the highway) can hardly be associated with postmodern ecumenical efforts and an inclusivistic demeanor. circumstances precluded this from happening early in Hezekiah’s reform.36 second month on the fourteenth day” (Num. This high esteem in which Hezekiah was held arose from the very strict standards to which he held the northern Israelites and not because of some postmodern spirit of inclusiveness that he possessed. The Chronicler reports. 30:2-3). Thus. . This “emergency situation” perspective needs to be a larger part of one’s understanding of the Israelites’ worshipping in Jerusalem than an anachronistic “ecumenical” perspective. Hezekiah’s faithfulness (2 Chron. 31:20-21) was mirrored in his deep devotion to the Temple. 29:2). The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. It strikes me as ironic that The Jesus Proposal employs this Hezekiah narrative in an attempt to diminish a contemporary Christian’s concern about the significance of regulations and liturgical rules in discussions about unity. 9:11). the correctness of the priests along with their ceremonies. festivals. From the Chronicler’s perspective Hezekiah was one of the rare kings of Judah that “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. even though the Mosaic Law required that the Passover be celebrated in the “first month” (Exodus 12:1-20). sacrifices and the accuracy of genealogical records. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem (2 Chron. Even the Jews in the South initially had to worship in ways that did not follow the teaching of Moses.
QUEST FOR THE CORE Certainly the authors of The Jesus Proposal are to be lauded for their sensitivity to the heart of God on the issue of unity among believers. They put forward three possible theological perspectives for Christian unity, each with its own history and advocates, and each with advocates convinced that their perspective provides the best “theological framework for maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ.”57 Options two and three are quickly dismissed. Option number two ostensibly represents the theology of moderate Churches of Christ's in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The third option represents the more rigid doctrines of the majority of Churches of Christ in the 1950s. Option 2 The Church of Christ is a Bible-believing fellowship which affirms Jesus as the Son of God who died and was raised to atone for human sin and who gives eternal life to all those who are in him, rejects the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism, practices adult immersion for the remission of sins, participates in the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, worships with a cappella music exclusively, organizes the local congregations under the oversight of a plurality of male elders, and embraces amillennial eschatology. Option 3 The Church of Christ is a Bible-believing fellowship which affirms Jesus as the Son of God who died and was raised to atone for human sin and who
The Jesus Proposal, pp. 148-49.
gives eternal life to all those who are in him, rejects the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism, practices adult immersion for the remission of sins, participates in the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, worships with a cappella music exclusively, organizes the local congregations under the oversight of a plurality of male elders, and embraces amillennial eschatology, pleads for the unity of the body of Christ among all who see each of the items already listed as it sees them, and believes that anyone who is not a member of one of its faithful-by-this-definition local congregations is in jeopardy of being lost. These last two are faulted for being unbiblical, sectarian, and too burdened by doctrines,58 leaving the reader with only one option, the wording and theology preferred by the authors of The Jesus Proposal. Option 1 The Church of Christ is a Bible-believing fellowship which affirms Jesus as the Son of God who died and was raised to atone for human sin and who gives eternal life to all those who are in him. From this option, The Jesus Proposal offers the reader a “theological anchor point” on which the unity of the Body of Christ can be advocated. All Christians should unite at this point, namely the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus as taught in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.59 To their
The Jesus Proposal, p. 150. In so doing, the authors disparage key historical doctrinal convictions of the Restoration Movement, including things such as “adult immersion for the remission of sins” and the rejection of “the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism (The Jesus Proposal, p. 148). “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold
credit Shelly and York do not deny the reality of the doctrinal disagreements that Churches of Christ have with the theology of various Protestant and Catholic churches. They, however, are eager to sacrifice these theological differences on the altar of Christian unity.60 The reader is told that the core, according to Paul himself, is that message recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. The numerous other doctrines and spiritual formulations which are distinctive to denominations and that have caused divisions in the Body of Christ simply do not represent the core of the gospel, the theological anchor point for maintaining unity. The notion that there is a “core” or “center” or “foundation” to the teaching of Scripture could hardly be contested since Scripture itself teaches this. Judaism certainly understood that the Ten Commandments revealed the foundation of God’s Law to Israel. In the same Jewish way of thinking, Jesus himself embraced the concept that the Law could be divided into the "least" and the "greatest" of these commandments (Matt. 5:19). Similarly when viewing the breadth of God’s Law, Jesus recognized there were “more important matters of the law” (Matt. 23:23). The whole dialogue about the “most important commandment” (Mark 12:28-33) in the Synoptic Gospels shows that this way of thinking that distinguished between levels of importance within the totality of God's revelation was at home within Judaism and its offspring, Christianity. Each of these metaphors (core, center, foundation) is used by modern authors to express firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The Jesus Proposal shares this conviction with others such as D. Gannon, “With Whom Should We Be United? A Biblical Theology of Church Unity,” Stone-Campbell Journal 3 2000, pp. 155-69 which advocates a “Saving Orthodoxy” [= 1 Cor. 15:1-5] that is distinct from a “Sustaining Orthodoxy.”
what they believe is at the “heart” of the New Testament. While this recognition of levels of doctrinal importance can be justified on the basis of biblical, ecclesiastical and practical evidence, this perspective has not always been applied with prudence. The term “core,” for example, has a history of its own in New Testament studies, and this history highlights its potential liabilities as a metaphor for a conservative interpretation and appreciation of Scripture. In the 20th century it was used with vigor by Rudolf Bultmann to distinguish between what he regarded as the disposable layers of the Christian faith and what he regarded as the permanent features. Typically Bultmann peeled away layers of material about Jesus that include both his miracles as well as other traditional Judeo-Christian views of God. Many orthodox beliefs were ripped off to get to the “core” of what was left. In order to make the message of Jesus available to “modern man,” Bultmann peeled away what he regarded as the primitive myths of the ancient world contained in the New Testament.61 More than one scholar has pointed out the extreme difficulties of this approach. “Even if you cannot believe much,” Prof. P. Henry noted sarcastically, “you can believe the little you do believe with full conviction, because it is the core of the New Testament — all else is beside the point, or is simply an elaboration of the point.”62 It is laudable that within this current generation of theologians in the Restoration Movement many have undertaken the “Quest for the Core.” Indeed, such a quest finds antecedent in the early stages of the Restoration Movement. Alexander Campbell’s last essay written a few months prior to his death in 1866 was titled “The Gospel.” In this final written
Bernard Ramm, A Handbook of Contemporary Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 33. Patrick Henry, New Directions in New Testament Study. Westminster Press, 1979, pp. 258-59.
63 Campbell acknowledged the concept of "core" and on the basis of this concept he argued that all beliefs. Millennial Harbinger Nov. Ascension. Olbricht. pp. “Campbell. who saw himself as an heir of Campbell. Alexander. resurrection and ascension of Jesus. 1996. sufferings. death. Thomas H. I first learned of this essay by Alexander Campbell from Leroy Garrett. 516-17. “that foundation was not laid except in the incarnation. The Sacrificial Message of God from the New Testament. pp. p. 1992. and Coronation of Christ. The True Basis of Christian Union. preached.” Cf. 15:3 as the “bedrock of the gospel. My Life with Scripture in the Churches of Christ. “the very moment that he [=anyone] avowed his faith in Christ — no matter how wrong he might be on a thousand other things — he was admitted through baptism to the fellowship of the Christian Church. 2000. Resurrection. Bill R. Death. 133-34. Thomas H. From a similar perspective Isaac Errett. teachings. p. ACU Press. Hearing God’s Voice. Life. Advocates for the quest for a core include Bill R.”64 This quest has re-emerged in the current generation as a significant point in theological thinking among Churches of Christ.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. . life. Errett continued.” If Christ himself was the foundation.66 and some of Olbricht’s former students at 63 Alexander Campbell.41 piece Campbell enumerated seven foundational points of theology “that constitute the whole gospel. doctrines and values were not equidistance from the heart of God. Burial. in his work entitled The Core Gospel. 10 cites 1 Cor. 338. College Press Publishing. The Core Gospel. The idea that “the whole gospel” could be represented by only these seven categories and not by all the accumulated doctrines of the New Testament does not seem to have been an anomaly in the theology of Alexander Campbell. His Love Compels. 1865. Abilene Christian University Press. Love.” For Alexander Campbell these seven points were the Birth.65 Tom Olbricht. 64 65 66 Isaac Errett. 12-13. Love. Olbricht.
becomes apparent when one compares the relative insignificance of some doctrines in the New Testament with their embellished and inflated significance in later Christian history. the authors of The Jesus Proposal wisely avoid some of the classic mistakes made by previous generations of leaders in Churches of Christ. most recently in the contribution of Jeff Childers in the book The Crux of the Matter: Crisis. esp. 68 67 Some marginal ideas are found many times while significant themes are rarely mentioned. Tradition. In particular. .67 If for a moment one can hold in abeyance the suggested “anchor point” of the “death. 2:2) language of 1 Corinthians in order to consider the evidence of Acts. Shelly and York did not encumber the core of the New Testament so that it includes every belief and doctrine found within the New Testament. except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 15:1-4) and the “to know nothing .42 ACU. burial. a type of doctrinal alchemy. They quite correctly refused to twist texts such as 2 John into meaning that everyone is an antichrist who does not hold to all the doctrines in Scripture. the other Pauline epistles. then the serious problems embedded within the proposed core of The Jesus Proposal rapidly become apparent. but also eschew putting at the center doctrines that are of minimal significance or that receive only minimal attention in the pages of Scripture. and the Future of the Churches of Christ. To their credit. and the remainder of the New Testament. chapter 7. . or even all doctrines taught by Jesus. . Examples of this doctrinal The Crux of the Matter.68 The transformation of simple biblical statements of faith into elaborate ecclesiastical dogma. The authors not only avoid locating too many doctrines at the center of the faith. where Childers sometimes regards the core as the Bible’s “center of gravity”. and resurrection” (1 Cor.
As the early leaders of the Restoration Movement knew from experience. include matters such as the Millennium of Rev. his unique Son. 2 Cor. Matt. 13:14) are rarely regarded as adequate for speculative Trinitarians. 69 . the affirmation of these (and scores of additional) biblical concepts about the Father. the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ and speculative Trinitarianism. and that God’s Spirit has been poured out upon the elect in these last days.g.. and the Spirit (e.69 Once again The Jesus Proposal eschewed this flawed method and did not inflate the significance of these types of doctrines by moving them from the margins to the center. 28:19. performed in later centuries to satisfy the needs of piety.43 alchemy. that the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus of Nazareth. the Son. The Scriptures clearly teach the oneness of God. philosophy and theology. 20.
the core proposed by the authors of The Jesus Proposal does not in my judgment supply all that is required. Notwithstanding the significance of God’s work 2000 years ago. Specifically. the enthronement and rule of Christ. we are left with artifacts. Without these additional three.44 NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT Nevertheless. for a "theological framework for maintaining unity. and the eschatological judgment of God. The Jesus Proposal offers an “anchor point” devoid of any substantive eschatology. The Jesus Proposal offers a “theological anchor point” that is too truncated. their portrait is noticeably remiss to the ascension and enthronement of Christ." there are at least three more major theological points that are at the core of early Christian preaching and theology: Centrality of God the Father [theocentrism]. Finally. delegated by the Father and manifested in his enthronement of his beloved Son.” Beyond the "death. must come into sharper view and move toward the center in a more dramatic way. without the dynamic contemporary reign of the enthroned Christ. If the work of God through his Son is to move beyond the incarnation. tomb and resurrection of 2000 years ago. to use the authors' words. Perhaps the history and conditions of the contemporary western church necessitate the church's ambivalence about God's . burial." In particular. and resurrection. When the authors work in the area of Christology. particularly God’s judgment of his creatures and the kingdoms of this world. of a religion of the distant past. albeit spectacular artifacts. Christ's authority and rule. the Father. from whom all things come and for whom we live” (I Cor 8:6) in the doctrine and piety of the New Testament. it is devoid of any significant exploration and conversation about God the Father and accordingly overlooks the central role of the “one God. one's core remains insufficient for the task of advocating for "a theological framework for maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ.
15:28). These three theological convictions reflect. the eschatological vision and perspective of the New Testament will remain forever beyond their grasp. 25. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ. God the Father rather than Christ the Son is the focal point of the New Testament. as the word "saints" denotes. Leon Morris’s perspective in this matter. cannot be ignored in issues of Christian unity. Paul saw God as important everywhere in the present time and he looked forward to a time when God would be "all in all" (1 Cor.70 Paul was a God-intoxicated man. I will argue that these three truths – the central role of God the Father (theocentrism). I argue. . 1986. Everything he dealt with he related to God. and God’s eschatological judgment – are exceedingly pervasive and significant doctrines in the New Testament. God the Father Notwithstanding the impression left by Christian hymns. p. but these. . . a core limited to one statement found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. It seems to me that until Churches of Christ intentionally behave like a sub-culture. . devotional literature. and he spoke constantly about the One who was central to his thinking. to the theological “core” presented by The Jesus Proposal. New Testament Theology. 70 Leon Morris. in my judgment. an improvement and necessary addition. Christ’s enthronement and rule.45 eschatological judgment.. prayers and apologetics. These three surely do not encompass all the theological components that might be shared for Christian unity. especially regarding Paul. is worth citing.
37.” in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Paul M. . Hendrickson Pub.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement.74 For a description of Marcion’s heresy see Everett Ferguson. Carson. “Doctrine of God.71 and numerous Protestant scholars continue to address the abysmal disregard for the Old Testament and God the Father in theology. p. . The Gospel According to John 74 73 72 71 . The Shaping of Things to Come. The Churches of Christ certainly have no monopoly on this flawed emphasis upon christocentrism. This disregard for the Old Testament and theocentrism can be found all along the theological spectrum.46 Lamentably far too much of theology has been christocentric rather than theocentric. 70.73 Jesus' own pronouncements that "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:26) and “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. but rather that God is actually Christlike. . Blowers. TX: ACU Press. 2:714-715. Even in the Restoration Movement discussions about the “Doctrine of God” have regrettably too often been articulated in terms of Christology. all theology must now be understood through Christology. 2003. Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church. Frank Pack. Everett Ferguson (New York: Garland Publishing. The Living Word Commentary (Abilene.. The far-reaching tentacles of the Marcionite heresy of the early church continue to reach into the modern era of the church. To say this more technically.A. (God is Christlike and in him is no unChristlikeness at all).72 The remarkable truth is not so much that Jesus is Godlike. ed. The Gospel According to John: Part II 11:1-21:35. One of the more egregious examples of this christocentric aberration in recent literature is found in the words of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. 1997). pp. 392457). 1977).. D. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. “Marcion (ca. 2d ed. 356-59. “No one is good — except God alone" (Mark 10:18) continue to fall largely upon deaf ears in contemporary Churches of Christ.
the way it was intended. 1991). 508. Perhaps it arose when the church began to read the Scriptures backwards rather than forwards. for example.47 The unified witness of the New Testament is so thoroughly theocentric that one wonders how Christianity became Christocentric so soon. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Consider the following translations from two different versions of the text of Colossians 1:15-20. that led people to think that the “Great Commission” began in Matthew 28 rather than Genesis 12 or that Christians were supposed to thrive spiritually on a truncated Canon of 27 books at the expense of the Old Testament and its authority. Sometimes even the wording of certain English translations have obscured the presence of theocentrism. . This was the same type of skewed perspective.
75 . 2002. one understandably asks? Isn’t the centrality of Christ manifested in the fact that we are called “Christians?” If christocentrism is flawed. Ed.48 I have known more than one Christian who drew from the NIV's wording that Jesus was the Creator.” Interestingly. 4:12. Eph. 1:1. 12:27. 3:11)? Furthermore. 1 Pet. 1:22-3. Holloway and Lowery. Clear terms of choice in the New Testament include words such as "disciples. how is theocentrism compatible with the emphases of the famous "Christ hymn" in Phil. 1:18-9). it is not even clear whether believers or their antagonists coined the word. 1:2. The obvious theocentrism of Paul in this area of ecclesiology is manifest in his frequent and preferred use of the phrase “Church(es) of God” (1 Cor.” Even though Paul often discusses the church in association with the imagery of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. Col. 26:28. Baker. 5:23. The TNIV's wording makes it clearer that Christ is the agency through whom the Father acted as Creator. Foreward by Mark Noll. 11:16. an outlook certainly not normative for Scripture. isn’t Christ supposed to be the center of the Christian faith.” “brothers. 2 Cor. the term “Christian” is hardly a term of choice used by Jesus or his earliest disciples. 10:32. Stanley Grenz. then what did Paul mean by “Christ is the only foundation” (1 Cor. 4:16). 16:16) than does the term “Christian. 230. InterVarsity Press. 2:5-11? Turning to some of the preceding objections to theocentrism. But. then why are we called the Churches of Christ? If theocentrism is valid.” and “saints. William R. Stanley Grenz has correctly observed that “the Christocentric character of the Stone-Campbell ecclesiology”75 has limited the vision of the Churches of Christ in respect to other Biblical paradigms for describing the people of God.” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement. p. 15:9. the phrase “Churches of Christ” occurs with even less frequency in the New Testament (Rom. Based upon the three occurrences in the New Testament (Acts 11:26." “believers. “An Evangelical Response to Ferguson.
NY: Doubleday. The context for Paul’s metaphor that Christ is the only foundation highlights the theocentrism rather than the christocentrism of that section of 1 Corinthians. 15. “and you are of Christ. cf. 3:23). 1 Tim. 3. It is astounding that scholars could have forged a core that omits something as central to the message and faith of the New Testament as the ascension-enthronement of the Christ. John Nolland. Thus the building in which Christ serves as the “only foundation” (1 Cor.76 his subsequent enthronement at the right hand of God exercises a prominent role in the New Testament. 1985). or lack of it. One of the important truths lost in the diminishing appreciation for Acts chapter 2 in the 76 Some scholars believe it is also presented in Luke 24:50. 3:16-17). . Ascension-Enthronement Until the art and iconography of the church gives equal attention to the enthroned Christ as it does to the crucified Christ. 1586-89. 5. Fitzmeyer. Joseph A. “God’s building” (1 Cor. and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. 1993). Furthermore. 35c (Dallas. and “God’s temple” (1 Cor. then there is no need even to debate whether the enthronement and reign of the Son of God have been neglected. 3:9) and the Corinthians are “God’s field” (1 Cor. 1224-25. speaks volumes about its theological emphases. The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV): Introduction. 2 Thess. Paul and Apollos are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 1:13. vol. While Jesus’ physical departure from earth is classically portrayed only in Acts 1. this third chapter of 1 Corinthians ends with a theocentric affirmation when the apostle writes to the Corinthians. The Anchor Bible (Garden City. 1:4. and Notes. 3:9).” according to Paul. Word Biblical Commentary.49 Gal. Acts 20:28) rather than Churches of Christ. TX: Word Books. Translation. 3:9). In the context of 1 Corinthians 3 and its metaphors. 3:10-15) is none other than “God’s building. The church's artwork and architecture. Luke 18:35-24:53.
77 The Davidic covenant (2 Sam. This attempt to grasp who Jesus is from a non-Davidic. The Jesus Proposal wants to lead its readers to the opposite conclusion. especially in the writings of Luke. and compassionate treatment of their fellow human beings. is ubiquitous in the Christology of LukeActs. even an important one. a descendant of David. A cursory look in Luke-Acts at the use of the Greek stem dida—and its cognates (or the English term "teach" and its cognates) reveals the inappropriateness of this evaluation. 7). . The virgin’s name was Mary.50 theology of Churches of Christ is Peter’s robust doctrine of Christ’s ascension-enthronement (Acts 2:25-36). Jesus' emphasis upon "small doctrines" in Matt. pp. 77 78 John Chrysostom Homilies on The Acts of the Apostles 1.”78 They then conclude that "Jesus defined his own mission in the world by his reading of an Old Testament text in the Nazareth synagogue" from Isaiah 61 while neglecting the “several texts that tied the Messiah to King David. 5:17ff) but rather to “exhort his followers to upright. The authors argue that Jesus decided not to “conduct seminars in biblical doctrine” (cf. Yet. loving. . associating Jesus with the enthroned King David in order to reveal what he himself believed was at the core of the Christology: Luke 1:27 . non-royal and non-enthroned perspective undermines important teachings found throughout the NT. Luke goes to great lengths to construct and sustain an intentional Davidic Christology. a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. 159-60.”79 I would hope that no one attempts to define Jesus' own mission on the basis of one story alone. . 79 The Jesus Proposal. which provides the Jewish backgrounds to the enthronement theology of the New Testament. John Chrysostom's comments in the 5th century that almost no one in the church of his day knew of the book of Acts might well have been a prophecy for the Churches of Christ of the 21st century.
Luke 2:11 In addition to the centrality of an enthroned Messiah in Luke's formulation of the birth narratives of Jesus. always supported by the firm conviction regarding Christ’s enthronement.51 Luke 1:32 Luke 1:69 Luke 2:4 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea. It is Luke’s hope that the reader will perceive what a “typical” sermon was like so that he would not have to repeat it every time he mentioned a sermon by Peter or Paul. it was this very connection that engendered faith in those early audiences! Those early groups exposed to apostolic preaching would have been stunned had the sermons normally ended with merely. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. . in fact. Accordingly. just as he had been in the infancy narratives. Luke is likewise very deliberate in his adaptation of Davidic Covenant Theology in his construction and use of speeches in the Acts of the Apostles. Rather than giving every apostolic sermon equal space." Notwithstanding Mel Gibson's magnification of the vicarious suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross." or the "risen Christ. he is Christ the Lord. to connect Christ to David and to the Davidic Covenant. These foundational and paradigmatic sermons of both Peter in Jerusalem and Paul in Pisidian Antioch promote an explicit Davidic Christology. because he belonged to the house and line of David. the apostolic preaching that Luke reported had as much or more interest in the enthronement and reign of Christ as a Davidic ruler. to Bethlehem the town of David. "Christ crucified. Luke was intentional in these preaching summaries from Acts 2 and 13. Luke typically gives more attention to the earlier evangelistic sermons in the ministries of Peter (Acts 2) and of Paul (Acts 13).
“And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. and we are all witnesses of the fact. and his tomb is here to this day. 20-23. the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God. Exalted to the right hand of God. one should heed both Paul's admonitions about honoring the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. the ascension Christology from the same chapter of Ephesians. The statements concerning unity must not be ripped from the soil of the surrounding theology. Mark 14:62 Luke 22:69 Acts 2:29-36 “I am. 4:10-13. As the following citation of verses highlights. at the same time. numerous vital facets of New Testament theology and spirituality would simply disappear and the Body of Christ would remain anemic. Seeing what was ahead.52 One might ask. 4:10) that undergirds these admonitions concerning unity. without the ministry of the ascended and enthroned Lord. 4:3) and the “unity of the faith” (Eph. then. is it not the case that believers ought to embrace both the divine mandates about unity as well as the theology that undergirds the mandate. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. who “is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens. "Is a theology of the ascended and enthroned Messiah connected directly with unity?" If the two are connected. As such.” But from now on. 4:13) and. 4:3 and 4:13) and the nearby ascension Christology manifest in Eph.” (Eph. nor did his body see decay. I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried. Brothers.” said Jesus. he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit . God has raised this Jesus to life. For the apostle Paul it is the reality of the enthronement of the Christ. that he was not abandoned to the grave. 1:10. that the type of unity the apostle Paul had in mind will forever be illusive as long as the church acts and preaches as though there is no necessary connection between the theme of unity (Eph. he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ. in order to fill the whole universe. It should come as no surprise.
you have been raised with Christ. We are witnesses of these things. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. who for the joy set before him endured the cross. to the glory of God the Father. and so is the Holy Spirit. far above all rule and authority.” Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus. 12:5 . 15:25. 8:34 1 Cor. whom God has given to those who obey him. .53 and has poured out what you now see and hear. and every title that can be given. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. in heaven and on earth and under the earth. whom you crucified. Since. She gave birth to a son. To which of the angels did God ever say. 27 Eph.” Acts 5:30-33 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 3:1 Heb. and yet he said. who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. . and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. both Lord and Christ. set your hearts on things above. power and dominion. who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels. then. For he “has put everything under his feet. a male child. authorities and powers in submission to him. 8:1 Heb. 1:13 Heb. . And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. 3:21-22 Rev. it is clear that this does not include God himself. scorning its shame. 2:9-11 Col. who put everything under Christ.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him. For David did not ascend to heaven. 12:2 1 Pet. Rom. who died — more than that.” Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ. “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest. where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. 1:20-22 Phil. not only in the present age but also in the one to come. the author and perfecter of our faith. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’.
basic Christian belief. burial. Howard Marshall concludes.54 Regarding the importance of the ascension-enthronement I. . 720. my sins and my mortality. I. . and it subverted any hope of true Christianity becoming an attractive civil religion. including a forced genuflection and confession from God’s enemies and a subjugation of the kingdoms of this world. the enthronement of Christ was alarming and threatening to them (Acts 17:6-7).”81 Since the current neglect of enthronement theology cannot be explained by the infrequency and faintness of its voice in the New Testament. p. Churches in North America are not especially attracted either to the kingship of Christ. bespeaks Lordship. “Peter’s understanding of salvation is likewise close to that of Paul. InterVarsity Press. All of this kind of language and worldview radicalizes the Christian message and raises its level of annoyance to outsiders. . 11:15-17).”80 and “Likewise the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to a heavenly position alongside himself (a glorification) is common. . resurrection and exaltation of Jesus constitute the saving event . 2004. Howard Marshall. The death. Many Witnesses. One Gospel. and resurrection” is that this keeps the focus comfortably on what God has done for me. p. The enthronement of Christ. 696. since they generally prefer a Savior rather than a King. Perhaps one of the reasons that Christians have been more amenable to keeping the core associated primarily with the “death. one must look elsewhere for explanations. New Testament Theology. however. While the cross of Christ was foolishness to pagans. New Testament Theology. Little wonder that the Revelation of John presents Jesus’ coronation as the zenith of the sounding of the seventh trumpet at the opening of the seventh seal (Rev. 81 80 Marshall.
” “godless chatter.” and “destroying the faith of some. 20:11-15). 2:16-18) believes that the teaching of distorted eschatology is sometimes to be associated with phrases such as “gangrene. 2:23. with its pillars of the final resurrection and judgment. it would be difficult to regard the New 82 The Jesus Proposal. since Paul himself (2 Tim. 12. who rescues us from the coming wrath. 25:1-46. 17.” It should not be overlooked that in both of these instances (Athens and Thessalonica) those who became believers were converted by a gospel that included the message of the future wrath of God on Judgment Day. whom he raised from the dead — Jesus. Heb. 5:9. the Gospels as well as other New Testament writings manifest how widespread this doctrinal belief was both in the teaching of Jesus and the early church (Matt. Paul’s sermon in Athens (Acts 17:31) certainly included a message about God’s “judgment of the world. Yet. 1:17. 209 .” Likewise.” “wandering away from the truth. John 5:22-30. p. 13:36-43. 9:27-28. 1:9-10): “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.55 Eschatological Judgment The third egregious omission from The Jesus Proposal and its theological anchor point is the New Testament doctrine of eschatology. 24:25.” we would be remiss to categorically ignore this doctrine in contemporary discussion of issues central to faith and unity. Furthermore. and to wait for his Son from heaven. 1 Pet. The view expressed in The Jesus Proposal is that our “best understandings of eschatology”82 do not have to be in agreement for believers to have unity. 16:27. Paul mentions this dimension of their turn to Christianity (1 Thess. James 4:12. 4:5. in his summary of the conversion of the Thessalonian believers. Rev. Since these new converts in Thessalonica and Athens came from audiences that were primarily pagan rather than Jewish. Acts 10:42.
anywhere in Acts. or. 2 Tim. the voice of Scripture is often marginalized. 8). in fact.56 Testament doctrine of the eschatological judgment of God as some mere Jewish husk or peeling that can be stripped away from the “core” of the gospel. In lieu of finding guidance and insight for preaching and teaching in the sermons and narratives of Acts. 5:9. 2:2-8. It has been increasingly difficult to keep theological perspectives about the judgment and the wrath of God in the thoughts of the contemporary church because. 5:10. 4:1. who would claim to be biblical and evangelical. If this conviction about eschatology was so clear in the mind and speech of Jesus and the early church. 5:6. In reality. 1963). rev ed. are undisturbed by the fact that there is not a single occurrence of the noun agape or the verb agapao in all the evangelistic sermons in the Acts of the Apostles. then God will treat him as such. 14:10. Col. but also of their own eschatological destiny if they continued in behavior that resembled their non-believing contemporaries (Rom. The Cost of Discipleship. No matter how clarion and how loudly the Scriptures speak about the certainty of the wrath of God. 1:8-9. Furthermore. Eph. what led to its evaporation in the current generation. In this way he taught believers not only of the destiny of their nonbelieving contemporaries. subverted and neutralized by the Bride of Christ's own illicit and idolatrous love affair with a permissive agape-love. 4:5. That is. 83 . 2:12.83 I find it more than a little peculiar that many modern preachers in the West. (New York: The Macmillan Company. of the ascendancy of consumer Christianity and western pluralism in recent decades. 45-60. 1 Cor. 1:5. it also played a decisive role in Paul's teachings to believers. Paul’s doctrine of the eschatological wrath of God was not taught solely to describe God's treatment of non-believers. 3:6. many Dieterich Bonhoeffer. Gal. 2 Cor. if a believer continues to act like a non-believer. 3:6. it seems to me. 2 Thess. 11:31-2.
when they preached about the necessity of knowing God through Jesus Christ. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 2005. “Interview with Reverend Billy Graham. A new era seems to have arrived. If this above-described situation existed principally among liberal Protestant and Catholic scholars and denominations. 21:00 ET.85 After spending over 700 pages looking at the various books of the New Testament and the variety of their theological voices. 295-97.57 contemporary believers recite John 3:16 and Matthew 7:1 as mantras for spiritual tranquility and guidance. one is forced to conclude that this is not the "old time religion" of conservative churches.” interview by Larry King. when leading preachers from "Bible believing" churches and ministries refuse to preach about the doctrine of God's wrath against sin.84 That is no longer the case. Throughout the New Testament we are presented Armand M. Is it possible to give an account of this core? The main theme. “Interview with Joel Osteen.” interview by Larry King. Carl F. ed. however. 2005. nothing would seem out of the ordinary. I. 21:00 ET. It was not too long ago that conservative believers consistently regarded homosexual lifestyle by Christians as sinful. 1973). History has come to expect the abandonment of traditional views by the left wing of Christendom.” in Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics. H. Thus in broad terms our analysis suggests that there is a significant core of agreement and identity within the theologies of the individual constituents of the New Testament. Joel Osteen. aired July 3. CNN Larry King Live. when a self-acknowledged fundamentalist preacher evaluates the spiritual condition of Hindus on the basis of their sincerity. Howard Marshall states. “Homosexualism and Homosexuality. aired December 25. Likewise. 85 84 . Nicholi II. CNN Larry King Live. Billy Graham.
21:21. 13:5. In the latter case of false teaching Paul insists.58 with a religion of redemption. 22:21. 24:7) with the goal of the sinner's repentance so that he will escape God's eschatological wrath. 22. so to speak. 17:7. . In these instances he promoted the removal of unity! Sometimes divisions and the erection of barriers between believers is exactly what fidelity to God requires. evident in his allegorical interpretation of Genesis 21:9-12. An important intersection of unity and God's judgment is made clear in Paul's treatment of both flagrant moral sins (1 Cor. New Testament Theology. 717-18. . 5:9-13) and egregious doctrinal errors (Gal. 19. . 24. The same four stages are common to all the writers: There is a situation of human need that is understood as sin that places sinners under divine judgment. 4:28-31). . . God will bring his redemptive action to its consummation with the parousia of Christ. from cover to cover. it is noteworthy that at times a firm commitment to eschatology actually led to the dissolution of visible unity among believers. 20:10-15. 12. 3:11-12) and also in the closing chapters of the Apocalypse of John (Rev. p. 21:8). that the churches of Galatia “get rid of” agitating Jewish Christian brothers who oppose Paul's own 86 Marshall. In the former case of moral sins Paul adapts the thematic “purge the evil” texts from Deuteronomy (Deut. final judgment and the destruction of evil . . .86 The frequency and centrality of this eschatological doctrine within the New Testament is symbolized by the fact that one encounters the unquenchable eschatological fire of God's wrath both in the opening chapters of Matthew (Matt. Regarding God's eschatological judgment. 19:13. In these instances it was Paul’s conviction and practice to discourage the continuation of unity already existing between believers. In these instances unity must be dissolved since one of the two groups is destined for the wrath of God. 21:9.
burial and resurrection. If the gospel core consists solely in the death.59 particular doctrinal view and practice of mission to the Gentiles as revealed to him by God.” or “personal taste. There can be no doubt historically that Paul’s opponents in Galatia also shared a common faith with Paul in these “core” beliefs. burial and resurrection" of Jesus. This ability to dissolve unity for the sake of doctrinal purity is incongruent with the method of reasoning and the conclusions expressed in The Jesus Proposal. the apostle demanded that they expel them (Gal. burial. as affirmed by the authors of The Jesus Proposal. Rather than demanding that the churches of Galatia embrace these false brothers who also believed in the "death. Paul had no ground upon which to frustrate the unity within the churches of Galatia. In both instances Paul demands that believers terminate the practice of unity because of the sinful behavior or erroneous doctrine among other believers. 4:28-31). .” or “distinctive interpretations of biblical texts” or “even trivia”87 does not resonate with the writings of Paul or Luke or any other New Testament author. The stated conviction that anything beyond “the central story of Christ’s death. 210. as well as in scores upon scores of other beliefs. and resurrection for us” must be relegated to the lesser matters of “denominational background. This common “core” was not sufficient for unity in the setting of the Galatian issues. 87 The Jesus Proposal. p.
without manifesting much sensitivity to issues of genre. 314. narrative or Gospel and to the rhetoric and tone of its various parts.60 AN ANCHOR THAT WON'T HOLD: ANOTHER LOOK AT 1 COR. Love. therefore.” Often translations and technical commentaries point out that the Greek prepositional phrase rendered “of first importance” could also be rendered “at first. occasion.” 90 . 105. poem. to the specific occasion of an individual letter. This includes a sensitivity to the style and genre of the documents of Scripture. the preachers and the high profile individuals leading in the call for this current reexamination represent a variety of academic fields. style.” thus reinforcing the previous emphasis on “I remind you about the gospel I preached.g.90 could one not use 1 Corinthians 2:2 to establish that the believers at Corinth became Christians without even hearing from Paul about the resurrection of Christ? After all.” As a methodology this is suspiciously similar to the one which affirms that verses simply “say what they mean. and mean what they say.88 1 Cor. 15:1-4 The training of the scholars. Even the traditional translation “of first importance” does not preclude other items also being “of first importance. burial and resurrection" of Christ. in this verse Paul does explicitly state that he knew “nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. Despite this variety. by this same simple methodology of merely taking a verse at its face value. It is. 15:1-4 is often viewed as containing the clear idea that Paul believed in a "core gospel" and that it consisted of the triad "death. 88 89 E. and rhetoric. 15:1-4 from its surrounding context. troublesome and perplexing that many of those who now claim to have located (with greater erudition and insight than their forebearers) the core of the New Testament have done so by lifting 1 Cor.89 Yet. all agree that we should interpret Scriptures with an awareness to insights provided by scholarship. The Core Gospel.
it seems improbable that Paul only preached “Christ and him crucified. during which time he certainly continued to have converts. and law” (Acts 18:13-15). how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” This summary statement of their denial of the resurrection demonstrates with clarity that the According to Acts 18:11 Paul’s 18 months there.. Douglas A. Leander E. names. 2005. Becoming a Cross-Shaped People in a Secular World. the reason for which Paul writes 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and the choice of terms that he uses stem directly from the occasion of that particular chapter. 125-39. It would. e. Although parts of church history and Christian literature might lead one to think otherwise. pp. In an epistle where content and theology are clearly structured around the apostle’s dealing with various problem areas. and Jack R. enthronement. Nashville:Abingdon Press. Tradition.” In light of the charges against Paul by the unbelieving Jews at Corinth and Gallio’s response to them about Jewish “words.92 Two points in particular should be kept in mind regarding a contextual handling of 1 Corinthians 15. and the Future of Churches of Christ. 1990. removed from the cluster of several other theological themes.g. p.91 with no reference to the resurrection in this Pauline summary of the core. 2:2 and 15:1-4 must be subject to the same inquiries about genre.” The focus on the cross of Christ is much more popular in Christian hymnody and devotional materials than it is in Paul’s letters. Reese. resurrection. esp. Leonard Allen The Cruciform Church. Abilene: ACU Press. Romans. 223-28). the simple fact is that in Paul's writings "Christ crucified" is simply not highlighted and put on a pedestal. Jeff Childers. esp. The Crux of the Matter.61 2:2). 2001. 32 observes that the term “cross” does not appear even once in Paul’s letter to the Romans. were focused on “teaching them the Word of God. The specific occasion is revealed in the wording of 1 Corinthians 15:12. and rhetoric as employed elsewhere in the NT. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. of course. “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead. be a strange situation indeed if only Jesus’ death on the cross was preached by Paul. Crisis. Foster. Keck.g. pp. 2nd ed. Abilene:ACU Press. it is clear that both 1 Cor. This fact raises some question about Crucicentric (centrality of the cross) theologies (e. 92 91 . incarnation. occasion. First.
Second. the reality of Christ’s appearance “to Peter. Osborne.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. “Paul and His Interpreters. how do the authors of The Jesus Proposal so quickly privilege these particular verses in James Barr. That this element is omitted from several contemporary presentations of the three part "core gospel" reveals that the threepoint gospel has been artificially lifted from Paul's original four point gospel message. 313-16. “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology.62 reasons for the wording of 15:1-4 arose from the need to discuss at this particular juncture the resurrection of Christ as a harbinger of the later resurrection of believers at the time of Christ's return.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. often built upon erudite research and advanced methods of investigation. “Hermeneutics/Interpreting Paul.” was central to the gospel of 1 Corinthians 15. Bernd Janowski. both in the Greek text and in most English translations. 1999). 666-79 provide two summaries of proposed methods and proposed solutions to this issue. This reveals that his message was in actuality a four-point gospel and not the three-point gospel that is typically represented. Grant R. 94 93 . Over the decades numerous works have been penned that have investigated and discussed the issue of the center and core of the Old Testament93 and of the New Testament. all of which makes abundant sense in light of the historical circumstances of the letter and the particular issue of chapter 15. 337-43. Hafemann. pp. 393-94 and S. 28-32. J. pp.” Theology Today 57 (October 2000): 297-324.94 In light of these many studies. The fourth point. A contextual handling of Paul's message must include the post-resurrection appearances of Christ. it is often unnoticed that Paul’s message “of first importance” begins in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and ends in 15:5. and then to the Twelve. The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
If The Jesus Proposal truly "commends itself to thoughtful believers. then this triad should easily fit into Paul’s presentation of the gospel in other letters. perspectives and reasons that the Apostle himself employs in 1 Corinthians both to combat strife and to promote unity. One would expect that "a proposal for Christian unity that is so thoroughly Jesus-centered that it will commend itself to thoughtful believers from many quarters"95 would stand out in the writings of the apostles and other major authors of the New Testament. If this proposed “core” provides a simple and obvious strategy for Christian unity. 11:18. . demonstrates that this understanding of 95 The Jesus Proposal p. it could be helpful to look at the various themes. 15:1-4 at those junctures in the epistles where disunity and strife are dealt with? This question must also be asked of other Pauline letters and of other writings of the New Testament. 1:10. If the “true core” of the gospel consists essentially of Jesus’ death. 21. burial and resurrection. a letter with the greatest frequency of the term “gospel” (with its cognates) of all of the Pauline letters. 12:25)." then why weren't the apostles "thoughtful" enough to anticipate and use this proposal in their own ministries? Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia.63 1 Corinthians 15 as the anchor text and the definitive basis for unity over all the other possible verses and doctrines of Scripture? Since the Corinthian church is known for its struggles with strife and division (1 Cor. then what kept Paul from realizing this himself when writing the Corinthian Letters? Why didn't Paul quote the triad of 1 Cor. shouldn’t one begin with the texts in 1 Corinthians that treat division and unity rather than one that focuses on resurrection? In order to understand Paul's strategy for unity. especially when he needed to advocate unity.
but the committee has since rethought the issue.’” The gospel of Galatians is that the blessings of God given to Abraham are now extended to Gentiles on the basis of faith. The traditional NIV translation contained the phrase “as for legalistic righteousness. burial and resurrection.” 96 . what does Paul have in mind when he accuses his opponents in Galatia of “turning to a different gospel” or “trying to pervert the gospel” or responding to “a gospel other than the one we preached” (Gal. The NIV Application Commentary. New Testament) states. pp. faultless. then where does one find the appropriate meaning? A commitment to historical and exegetical methodology requires that one looks to Galatians. a contorted historical reconstruction of Scot McKnight. “Introduction: Legalism Then and Now. It would demand arduous mental gymnastics.” Galatians. 3:6. faultless” at Phil. “as for righteousness based on the law. The Today’s New International Version (2002. rather than to some pristine theological nugget from another epistle that must be imported in order to rightly understand Paul's writing to the Galatians. This perspective from Galatians on "gospel" would obviously not have had any relevance to 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul needed to address the issue of the future resurrection of believers. Several contemporary scholars don’t even regard the Galatian opponents as guilty of — to use a non-biblical term — legalism. In fact. and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you. 19-46. For example. burial and resurrection.64 the “core” from 1 Corinthians 15 is far from adequate.96 much less that they denied Jesus’ death. If the definition of the core gospel given in 1 Corinthians 15 does not supply the appropriate meaning for the gospel in Galatians. one needs to look no further than Galatians 3:8 to find the meaning of gospel in Galatians: “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. 1:6-9)? There is no indication from Paul that he believes that these Christian "false brothers" are guilty of denying Jesus’ death.
Barnabas and other believers is reckoned as hypocrisy because it repudiated the "right hand of fellowship" acknowledged earlier at Jerusalem. While focused on the Apostle's letter to the churches of Galatia. do we find scholars suggesting that Peter had doubts about the “death. It is especially striking that the Apostle Paul did not invoke the “core” of the "death. When Paul castigates the Apostle Cephas for “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. the "separation" or "drawing back" behavior of Peter. 3:27-29). Looking more deeply. burial. 2:12-14). male nor female. the Antioch episode mentioned in Galatians 2 is very instructive at this point. and heirs according to the promise (Gal. it is helpful to look at what theological point Paul employs when giving teaching about unity in that particular setting: For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. That is.65 the opponents in Galatia and a fertile imagination to identify the focus of the gospel of 1 Cor. If you belong to Christ. then you are Abraham’s seed. and resurrection” of the Lord? Peter’s sin was specifically in regard to his hypocrisy about the inclusion of Gentiles into the elect of God (Gal. 15:1-4 with the gospel used by Paul to address the false teaching among the churches of Galatia. for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Interpreters have rightly seen unity among believers at Antioch as an issue associated with “table-fellowship” among Christians there. slave nor free. either when meeting with the pillars of the church in Jerusalem or when castigating Cephas and others at Antioch. 2:14). burial and resurrection" to solve this major rupture of unity and fellowship. Neither of the authors of The Jesus Proposal seems to hold to a view of baptism that resonates .
An attempt at unity by the church. its elders. 171-75 (Shelly). There is no evidence that these Jewish brothers. whether one looks at Paul’s treatment of baptism and unity in Galatians. so Luke informs us. . resurrection. In addition to the fact that the nascent 97 The Jesus Proposal. pp. We need to be clear about the fact that all the believers at this event. already devoutly believed in the truth stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. ascension. Some Jewish believers.66 with the doctrinal and historical view of the Churches of Christ. and apostles culminates in the well-known “Jerusalem Conference” of Acts 15. were even arguing that Gentile believers were not yet saved because they were not obeying the necessary commands of Scripture. there appears to be something akin to the division and community fragmentation that The Jesus Proposal wants to overcome that took place during the formative decades of the early church. 12:13) or Ephesians (Ephesians 4:5). enthronement and return of Christ as well as the significant role played by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. were ignorant of or denied the death. especially for the purposes of discussing unity among believers. 88-90 (York). burial. even though baptism serves as an crucial component in Paul’s explicit theological reflection about unity. pp. both in regard to becoming part of God's elect by keeping circumcision and remaining faithful to God's will by keeping the holiness rules given in the Law of Moses. including those Christians who were card-carrying Pharisees (Acts 15:1-5). Galatians is but one of many texts that highlights the inadequacies of locating the core gospel narrowly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. who demanded Gentile Christians’ obedience to the Law of Moses.97 This probably explains the obvious neglect of baptism in their own proposal for unity. Interestingly.
Had the Jerusalem church chosen to invoke Jesus' death. Since the details of the unity discussion in Acts 15 relate to Jewish acceptance of Gentile brothers and sisters. all the participants would have sat there in stunned silence and with blank stares since it goes without saying that everyone. and the Gentile mission of the church.98 The suggested core gospel of the “death. Had the leaders at the Jerusalem Conference invoked this theological anchor point proposed by The Jesus Proposal. Next. ." we ought not forget that Christ's post resurrection appearance to "more than five hundred of the brothers . 98 . the church decides upon four items necessary for the resolution of this Jew-Gentile division in the churches. All the brothers seated around the table in Jerusalem already believed in the death. from the meat of strangled animals and 4. from sexual immorality.67 church in Jerusalem was "devoted to apostolic teaching. and indeed eyewitnesses. This particular Scripture was chosen at the Jerusalem Conference in order to demonstrate the necessary connection between the restoration of God’s covenant with David. . burial and resurrection to resolve the debate at hand. many of whom were members of the Jerusalem church and some of whom would have been participants in the Jerusalem Conference. . These Gentiles had to: 1. indeed could not. realized in Christ’s resurrection and enthronement. most of whom are still living" referred to Jewish believers. 3. abstain from food polluted by idols. both Jewish believers Scholars debate this issue. burial. and resurrection” did not. The apex of the arguments used to defeat the false teaching of the Pharisee believers and to promote the Jew-Gentile Christian unity sought at the Jerusalem Conference was a quotation from Amos 9 (Acts 15:13-20) cited by the brother of Jesus. 2. were certainly in place and available. from blood. the brother of Jesus alludes to the four stipulations for “alien-gentiles” who lived among Jews in the Old Testament. burial and resurrection of Jesus. but it is my conviction that James utilizes Leviticus 17-18 to arrive at the four items. those convictions. serve as the "framework for maintaining the unity of the Body" at the Jerusalem Conference.
One might as well imagine that the Apostle Paul had one form letter that he distributed to each and every church that he wrote. but rather that it is too specific. had already. The seven “ones” of Ephesians 4:4-6. that are sufficient for any and all discussions of unity. Is there anything to be learned from the fact that neither the Twelve. long ago. within the Scripture of the New Testament there are no minimalist “core verses. is a list determined by the needs of that particular epistle and could not serve as an “ecumenical” platform for Christian unity in all times and places. believed these things since “the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Since there is no "form letter" to bring about unity and to correct congregational problems and aberrations. Whether those of an ecumenical persuasion wish to embrace the fact or not. There is no evidence biblically for the idea that there existed one creedal statement or formulation in Scripture that always and everywhere served as the universal confessional platform to unite all believers99 under all circumstances. 99 . the fact that Amos 9 could be so integral at Jerusalem but so irrelevant to most other efforts to unite believers reveals a fundamental truth. but not sufficient for all discussion of unity. for example. there is no "form creed" to address every issue of unity among believers. It is not as though the list is defective. The seven "ones" of Ephesians 4:4-6 are necessary. burial and resurrection” core to overcome what is regarded as one of the greatest divisions in the nascent church? While Leviticus 19:18 is still being invoked in the modern era to promote aspects of Christian unity.” no seven point creeds. nor the brother of Jesus nor Paul and Barnabas broached the “death.68 and Gentile believers.
The Jesus Proposal.' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone.' 'The question is.” that identifies the biblical Church of Christ as “a Bible-believing fellowship which affirms Jesus as the Son of God who died and was raised to atone for human sin and who gives eternal life to all those who are in him. Humpty Dumpty. pp. there is the equally troublesome issue of the meaning of words and the correct interpretation of texts of Scripture. 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'100 This well known exchange between Humpty Dumpty and Alice encapsulates a profound issue related to biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. Beyond the above-mentioned difficulties with finding any one simple text or doctrine to remedy all issues of unity and fellowship. that not even all believers agree on the meaning of many of the words and phrases expressed in this “theological anchor point. 148.69 Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutics 'When I use a word. p.”102 One of the more perplexing points about this choice of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is the fact. certainly known by the authors of The Jesus Proposal. 148-49. .” Going back to the hermeneutics of Humpty. the question at hand is whether discussions of texts of Scripture and unity can ultimately bear fruit when words of Scripture can mean what “I” choose 100 101 102 Lewis Carroll Through the Looking-Glass chapter 6. The Jesus Proposal.' said Alice. The Jesus Proposal sets forth three possible approaches to Christian unity and defining “the Church of Christ. 'it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less.”101 It rejects two of these immediately as characteristic of the American Restoration Movement and prefers a third. associated with its own “theological anchor point.
the inability of Abbott and Costello to communicate did not arise from the fact that they spoke different languages. write a humorous skit depicting a discussion of these verses by preachers and theologians from various theological perspectives. upon the perspectives stated at www. almost everyone else in Christendom regards their theology as heretical and cultic. for example. the goals of vaudeville skits are not the same as the goals of one “who correctly handles the word of truth.” A similar situation exists with those of Mormon faith.” but similarly I do not want to be unwittingly exploited by ad hominem rhetorical phrases such as “Bible-believers.”103 In the clear light of day. this skit would bear an amazing resemblance to the famous Abbott and Costello skit. What.mormon. Since. For Christians seeking a framework for unity today. however. Notwithstanding the attractive “family values” of the Latter Day Saints.” 103 .org. with a little imagination. after the shadows of rhetoric have vanished.” there is not much constructive in evasive theological language or an obfuscated and confused discussion of the gospel.” the “Bible Cores. do we work with only the sixty-six books of the There is also the issue of aberrant and eccentric hermeneutical perspectives about the Bible like those espoused by “Theomatics. but from the fact that they used words in the same language whose meanings were capable of diverse meanings. are we to understand by the rhetorically charged phrase “Biblebelieving fellowship?” I am certainly not against “Bible-believers. “Who’s on First?” Unlike those at the Tower of Babel. however. the Latter Day Saints would certainly regard themselves as a “Bible-believing fellowship. one must ask “Which Bible?” The phrase “according to the Scriptures” is very significant to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. however. but which Scriptures are we to have in mind as a component of this “theological anchor point?” For Paul the term “Scriptures” typically referred to the books of the Hebrew Scriptures.70 them to mean—neither more nor less. Based. Anyone aware of the subtle nuances associated with hermeneutics and Christian systematic theology could. If the right denominations were present.” the “Omega Code.
15:3). 18:4-5.tpcopelika. the doctrine of Purgatory. those of us who use the “Protestant” Scriptures could not fault “Bible-believing Catholics” for advocating. Consequently. Internet. 10:32-39. the anchor point of The Jesus Proposal could lead us to embrace the 16th century Council of Trent convened by Pope Paul III. Equally difficult to overlook is the absolute incompatibility of the different views regarding the seemingly simple statement of the gospel. that they might be delivered from their sin [of idolatry]. accessed 23 February 2007.71 “Protestant” Bible? Without further comment or restrictions. . and 2 Esdras into the Scriptures of the Catholic Church. Since Roman Catholics can cite “chapter and verse” from 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 for the doctrine and practice of “praying for the dead . 104 . The Council of Trent clearly incorporated those Deuterocanonical books such as Tobit. While these few words are a mantra in evangelical churches. Sirach.crcna. see also http://www. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor.htm for a Presbyterian affirmation of the same doctrine. . those denominations based upon the teachings of John Calvin (and later treated at the synod of Dort) oppose as a false teaching the belief that Jesus died for the sins of every person and that Jesus can be the Savior of any and every individual (see 1 John 2:2). In numerous ecclesiastical websites and denominational publications of Reformed and Presbyterian churches one encounters the belief that faithful believers should affirm the doctrine of the “Limited Atonement.”104 That is. 12:50. Mark 3:35. including “Limited Atonement” see http://www. Accordingly. looking beneath the surface shows how confused and conflicted the interpretation of these few words is in the Christian world. for example.cfm.” I cannot imagine how a non-Catholic could protest since this ubiquitous Catholic practice arises from their “Biblebelieving” hermeneutic. 16:25. the "whoever" verses (Matt. John The Christian Reformed Church has traditionally affirmed the canons of Dort.org/pages/dort_canons_main.org/Trinity_Belief. 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees.
the “P” of TULIP. Christ’s atonement is “Limited”. according to Calvinists. 7:38. providing the “L” in the five point Calvinistic acronym TULIP. since he has already chosen them. but only for the predestined saints. The possibility of apostasy and “falling from grace” have always been part of both the faith and practice of the Churches of Christ. What they truly mean. Thus. verses like 1 John 2:2. as is the "our sins" of 1 Cor. since the saints will always persevere. Phrases from 1 Cor. Paul’s statement teaches that salvation can be lost.72 3:16. Consequently. and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” do not mean to a Calvinist what they might sound like they mean to a non-Calvinist. 10:9) are viewed very differently by Calvinists and non-Calvinists. 15. if you hold firmly to the word” (cf. before the creation of the world to be saved from the world. is that God’s atoning work in Christ’s death was not for everyone in the world. 15:2 such as “you are saved. A final point reveals another reason why 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is a poor choice of verses. Col. those predestined by God. since in the judgment of Calvinists. From my perspective. there cannot be any conditionality to salvation. but only those who are among the elect. be irresistibly (the “I” of TULIP) drawn to God’s grace from the world. This would violate the “Perseverance of the Saints”. who will. Consequently the LIP portion of the debate about TULIP is inextricably woven into even these . if all Bible-believing Christians are to meaningfully understand their “common faith” (Titus 1:4). “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In the classic Calvinistic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:3 the term “our” does not encompass the sins of all humankind. "if you continue in your faith") and you “believed in vain” certainly raise problems for the possibility of a common understanding of these verses by all believers. again according to Calvinists. 1:23. 36.
thereby breaking with the historically held views of the Stone-Campbell Movement. IL: Intervarsity Press." as though I myself am the final arbiter of God's word. 106 . Mark D. The authors of The Jesus Proposal regard “the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism” (TULIP) as doctrinally irrelevant for discussions of unity. It is questionable whether this clarity of Scripture could be associated with this “theological anchor 105 Some historians note that “once saved.” both in faith and practice. even among those who do not usually hold to the other four points of Calvinism. it would be very difficult to carry on what is often called the “work of the church. always saved” belief that abounds in the evangelical world.” how could believers. possess a coherent view of God and his work in Christ.106 a clarity which includes an intelligible and coherent sharing of faith and practice. If in these four brief verses of 1 Corinthians 15 believers do not have a shared understanding about significant concepts such as the “Scripture. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture. 2006). The grass roots manifestation of this doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints” is the “once saved. always saved” did not derive from Calvinism. but in grass roots Evangelicalism that is now closely associated with Calvinism. New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove. A cogent case can still be made for the clarity of Scripture. Thompson.73 few verses. not to mention unbelievers.” the “extent of the atonement.105 As I understand the nature and purposes of the church described in Scripture.” and the “security of salvation. if its self-understanding as well as its message to the outside world was so confused on these particular doctrines of atonement and perseverance. Even if one regards the significant differences with Calvinism as irrelevant for unity. that does not validate a Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutic where a significant theological term "means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less.
1:15-19) nor negate the resources of our God-given minds and their capacity to understand his revelation.” especially if the readers are interpreting from lexicons as diverse as Calvinist and nonCalvinist. the authors of The Jesus Proposal state. then what is the value and need of referring to these verses at all? A focus on a "Jesus alone" hermeneutic is equally inadequate. All too often “Jesus alone” perspectives eventuate to the place where theological substance is replaced by pious feelings and slogans. Yet. the mighty acts of God surpass our human understanding. If I and other believers cannot achieve a critical mass of theological clarity and coherence in our discourse as well as our understanding and experience of these verses of Scripture. Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that this statement is almost meaningless in terms of how one benefits from the saving and sanctifying work of Christ. it seems to me that Jesus himself was not overly .” concluding then that this should remove all barriers to unity. . Is there adequate gravitas to a theological framework for maintaining Christian unity if it is constructed on a foundation that ignores differences of substance? For example. Even though these slogans of "Jesus alone" are often connected with reverential references to Jesus. if these verses in 1 Cor. 15:1-4 can simultaneously mean so many contradictory things and bear the weight of so many personal interpretations. but God's gracious actions neither bypass our understanding (Eph. or the Lord Jesus. or the Son of God. the understanding of salvation and sanctification is so diverse within the evangelical. Catholic and Protestant. at Presbyterian and Baptist churches today are to ‘speak the same thing’ about the One who saves and sanctifies. To be sure. “The people of God . typically accompanied by a very selective use of the words of Jesus. or Christ. That is.74 point. . then the unity and outreach that Jesus prayed for (John 17:17-23) will diminish for lack of a truthful word.
” then why should the modern followers of Christ lower the bar on this type of issue. 28:23. then I imagine there was substantive content and doctrines of the faith being given them. 1:3). Simon son of Jonah. cf. the major author of the New Testament. Part of Jesus’ time with his disciples was spent to reshape the doctrines and thinking of the Apostles in order to move them from misconceptions to meaningful theology in their thinking about him. Furthermore. Since "preaching Jesus alone" was not a regular part of the The account of this story in Matthew’s Gospel. for this was not revealed to you by man." The apostles proclaimed both Jesus and the Kingdom of God. 31. but the things of men” (16:23). “Satan. you do not have in mind the things of God. why does Luke. 16) when the Apostles he was mentoring tossed around terms like “Christ” and “Son of God. In fact. If Jesus spoke to the apostles about the kingdom for "forty days" (Acts 1). 107 . about the coming kingdom and the about the Law of Moses. Christ was not particularly satisfied with the “Christ” rhetoric at that point. 19:8. “Get behind me.75 impressed by slogans and titles in and of themselves. Jesus drove a stake through the heart of that kind of rhetorical Christology once for all at Caesarea Philippi (Matt.107 If Jesus Christ himself was not pleased with Christ “rhetoric. does not alter this point. and he made his displeasure at this abundantly and painfully clear when he called his closest friend Peter. though worded differently. about God. and Luke certainly did not regard Jesus and the Kingdom as synonyms (Acts 8:12. but by my Father in heaven” (16:17) is followed by the words. to mention a few doctrines of faith that needed to have improved understanding. Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” for not grasping the correct substantive understanding of this term. 14:22.” void of their correct meaning. not seem satisfied with a “Jesus alone” message? Luke describes the Good News and the preaching of the apostolic church as more than just "preaching Jesus. “Blessed are you. Even Jesus’ words.
a “Jesus” created in our own image. The original mirage. both modern and postmodern and both traditional and iconoclastic interpretations of the Christian faith. Initially it provides hope and excitement when viewed from a distance. Jesus himself preached the “Kingdom of God” prior to his proclamation of his own death and resurrection. trans. Finally. 2d English ed. The Question of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. with a preface by F. but upon closer inspection the disappointing and painful truth is always revealed. For believers committed to having their theology shaped by the Word. often turns into the sand of our own personal and denominational needs and appetites. quite predictably.. C. Montgomery (London: A & C Black.108 This recurring idolatry of creating Jesus in our own image is found in both liberal and conservative.76 apostolic preaching of Acts. 1931). Burkitt. once discovered. a "Jesus alone" spirituality and theology fails to reflect the breadth of the biblical text and should be unacceptable. W. all "Jesus alone" theology continues under a dark cloud of suspicion. As others have noted. Albert Schweitzer. looks astonishingly just like us. 108 . this quest for and hope of the “Jesus alone” perspective usually turns out to be a mere mirage. The 20th century missionary and theologian Albert Schweitzer taught us that far too often the Jesus we look for.
most believers realize that God's name is blasphemed among unbelievers because of the hypocrisy of the saints (Rom. while we ourselves refuse to do the same.. but not ourselves. At the onset of World War II both eastern and western Europe lay in shambles. to such a high standard? There is little moral authority and authenticity in telling others to ignore the abuses of the church in their search for truth. either individually or collectively. in spite of the depth of pain. Notwithstanding the many. Along with the Apostle Paul. As already noted. the authors’ pain and deep scars from their participation in Churches of Christ are evident in The Jesus Proposal. committed by our predecessors. we hope.77 AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Sexism. we still hope unbelievers will be attracted to God’s truth and to enter a relationship with him. but the Churches of Christ have fewer skeletons in their closet than many other groups. There is an important lesson that European history can teach us about responding judiciously to errors. the Inquisition.g. work toward and pray that unbelievers would not shun Christianity solely because of the bad behavior of Christians. anger and frustration. Racism. All Christian denominations have skeletons in their ecclesiastical closets. Each of us. WIKIALITY AND GOD'S CONGREGATION Spiritual and doctrinal abuse is as real and nefarious as any other form of abuse. many heinous sins and atrocities committed in the name of Christ by churches. If we hope and expect the nonbeliever to look beyond the sins of the church. 2:24). shares responsibility in moving beyond our own past. It may be a quirk of history or the brevity of the American Restoration Movement rather than any indication of a virtuous temperament. the Crusades. devastated by the Blitzkrieg of . e. Nevertheless. Nationalism and Genocide. even egregious errors. is it justifiable to hold the non Christian.
only two weeks after the devastating retreat of approximately one-third of a million Allied troops at Dunkirk and only twenty-four hours after the surrender of France to Hitler.” On the basis of these perspectives and his awareness of the urgent mission thrust upon England Churchill stated. . Winston Churchill spoke before the British House of Commons. we shall find that we have lost the future.” A free Europe and indeed a free world were possibly on the verge of extinction. that it would be “utterly futile and even harmful” in light of the task facing Great Britain and its Allies to fulminate against the stupid decisions and reprehensible actions of the past. The previous British government had been deceived by Herr Hitler.”109 109 The Jesus Proposal. On June 18. p. and that there was plenty of blame and guilt to go around for allowing the ascendancy of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. getting over some early bad experiences of church. This new Prime Minister realized.78 the Third Reich. No one could have faulted Churchill had he decided to blame his predecessors for this failure of judgment and for permitting this catastrophe of history. lest “all that we have known and cared for. it comes as no surprise that the authors acknowledge that they “have devoted a great deal of our adult lives . “Of this I am quite sure. 62. will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age. however. Churchill realized the necessity of defeating Hitler.” In light of the number of negatively painted vignettes. 1940. There could be no doubt about the significance of this point in time in the history of the free and “civilised order in the world.” In my judgment The Jesus Proposal threatens the future by its acerbic and unrelenting magnification of the “quarrel between the past and the present. . that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present. . The Prime Minister had a profound awareness of the urgent mandate put upon Britain by destiny.
2006. The authors of The Jesus Proposal provide unassailable proof by their own lives that much has changed in the past generation. are any of us. it becomes the truth. represent a minority in Churches of Christ. Finally. In light of God's eternal work. our personal preferences about the Cosmos and our personal stories are of little significance in the matter of discerning and establishing the eternal truth of God.110 I have in mind a kind of theology where God's will and truth are discerned on the basis of the consensus of personal frustration. in my experience.” we must beware of surrendering to a type of spiritual wikiality. then I am relatively sure that our subjective intuitions. if enough people agree with a notion.” the term “wikiality” was coined by the political satirist Stephan Colbert on a segment of The Colbert Report. the painful autobiographical and anecdotal narratives in this book document situations that in many instances reflect what are the older faces of the Churches of Christ. more than a mere pixel in the spacious and ever expanding picture of God's plan for the ages? If the great empires and civilizations of world history."111 In light of An apparent portmanteau of “wikipedia” and “reality. are a mere drop in the bucket to God when compared to his wisdom. they now. Even though these faces were formerly in the majority. it has abandoned a nearly 2000 year old Christian spiritual and theological commitment to the "Lord's Day" and the "first day of the week. When the largest Church of Christ provides a Saturday evening worship in lieu of Sunday. 3:21). Consequently.79 Notwithstanding these “bad experiences of church. which aired on July 31. including his glorification in Christ and in the church (Eph. his plans and his truth. He defines the term as “A reality where.” 111 110 The leadership of the Richland Hills Church of Christ has provided as brief . with all their successes and failures. are any of our congregations. reactions and counter-proposals are sometimes being directed at what now amounts to a caricature of the contemporary Churches of Christ.
. statement concerning the introduction of a Saturday evening instrumental worship at http://www. see also Bobby Ross Jr. accessed 02 March 2007.80 this and many similar situations.rhchurch. I am rather confident that for the most part we are not still stuck in the 1950s doctrinal outlook of the Churches of Christ.org/index. Internet.cfm?pg=news&id=26. “Nation’s Largest Congregation Adding Instrumental Service.” Christian Chronicle 64 (January 2007): 3. 8.
sustained by minimal formal religious education. resolutely guided on the basis of its religious doctrines. some are more democratic while others are more hierarchical. like it or not. the decline of influential publications in Churches of Christ. passed down through debates and gospel meetings. and a major shift in the focus of religious education. buttressed by intramural publications. In this period . Typically they have in place a polity that allows it to consciously respond in an informed and calculated way to the ebb and flow of culture and its subsequent impact. the loss of interest in debates and gospel meetings. Most church groups recognize the impact of culture(s) upon their particular denomination. at least not as a brotherhood. and nurtured by patriarchal figures. saw the death of the patriarchs. Furthermore. In earlier generations Churches of Christ steered its ship with a firm hand. its creeds. This current generation. these ships on the sea of American religion can with deliberation decide to stay the course as far as possible or to change direction when new winds blow. a task God gives to each and every congregation and generation. when the patriarchs died their mantles were not passed on to others. which means that reexamination can and should begin to take place within the context of the family of God. the Churches of Christ of our grandparents no longer exists.81 A LOOK AROUND THE CORNER Clearly. but most have some form of institutional governance – someone or some group at the helm to steer and stabilize the course of their religious faith and practice. Accordingly. its faith and its practices. One of the positive results from this is a renewed vision and practice of congregational autonomy. however. The details of the governance of American denominations vary.
the stereotypical “person in the pew” may not be aware of all that has transpired. he assumes that all is well and the captain is at the helm. about the reexamination of older perspectives. while still others have found rowboats and skiffs and sailed off into the sunset. an awareness of this diffusion of new perspectives is crucial for the rank and file of members. or even who should be. Accordingly.112 The “average member” may have some sense that the seas are rougher and the ride more jolting than usual. God has called them to play a very crucial role in the direction and development of the church. In this setting of a fellowship of autonomous congregations. There are several possible attitudes that could be held toward the person in the pew by those desiring to be at the helm. In the interim some have jumped ship into the billows below.82 of recent history. 112 . and about fruitful dialogue taking place among the church’s leaders. however. the scholars and teachers of the church are accountable to God first and second their fellow believers. they are This is not to dismiss the helpfulness of the Christian Chronicle that basically reports selective news about Churches of Christ. the previous homogeneity of Churches of Christ evaporated and a moderate polarization has begun to emerge. including internal controversies. These Christians themselves are the church and as such should be the last people in the Churches of Christ to be kept in the dark about new perspectives. Special interest groups continue to struggle to make their way to the helm in hopes of steering the Churches of Christ. when the “average Christian” is informed and educated about the changes in the pilothouse. I think it is better. teachers and scholars. In a period when it is not clear who is at the helm. with no recognizable captain at the helm. but since there has not yet been an obvious mutiny. One could believe that "ignorance is bliss" for the person in the pew. Beyond the leadership of individual congregations.
4:14). This task will be hampered and crippled if these fellow Christians are all “tossed back and forth by the waves. This will clearly call upon all believers. and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. congregations and their leaders to decide which issues should be regarded as central in the theological deliberations and commitments of Churches of Christ. Churches of Christ will be especially vulnerable if they are seduced into the belief that teaching and doctrine have become basically irrelevant. catastrophic shipwreck awaits individual women and men. pluralism and every wind of teaching. my brothers. Can issues of unity be biblically discussed without serious consideration given to the “imitation of God” as an essential . so that their lives might bring glory and honor to their Creator. Certainly all of us who teach (as well as those who are taught) must not fail to remember that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers. but also how to relate to other believers who do not share similar convictions about the teachings of Scripture.83 clearly responsible to the aggregate membership of Churches of Christ for their ministry. As church history so painfully demonstrates through poignant examples. congregations and denominations who encounter a spiritual “perfect storm.” resulting from apathy. Not only will congregational leaders need to decide. The reason for the existence of Christian scholars is the faithful exercise of their gifts and ministries in equipping saints for the task of ministry. affluence. hopefully based upon Scripture. as they are faithful to Scripture. which doctrines must be privileged in the Christian walk and in discussions of unity. it is imperative that these deliberations and commitments must encompass decisions about the lifestyle of Christians. because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Equally important.
the fruit of this kind of scholarship clearly needs to have greater impact on our developing Scripture-based theology. My personal prognosis is not very optimistic. Here we are 50+ years beyond the distained “1950s theology” and we still seem to think that what we believe about and how we behave during a 1-2 hour time slot at a particular building each week is at the top of God’s list of priorities. sound words and doctrines include ethical issues (e. 12:1-3. 1 Tim. not necessarily meaning devotional . In my personal judgment it is not necessary for Churches of Christ to come forth with a radically new reconceived. No wonder Jeremiah was driven to tears by the theology and spiritual orientation of his contemporaries who had made an idol of liturgical perspectives (Jer. both to keep the church acceptable to God (Rom. dating back a few millennia. That whole mentality.84 component of the life of a genuine community of faith? As even a quick look at the Pastoral Epistles shows.g. 1:10. appears to be directly out of the playbook of the 1950s. On occasion I am asked what I think of the “worship wars.” this internecine fight that divides congregations and is fueled by dogmatic preferences for either traditional or contemporary worship. Issues of purity and sanctification must regain their biblical prominence alongside issues of justification. 15:16) and to define and retain the required integrity of the church’s life and fellowship. sad track record. remixed and repackaged Restoration Plea. 6:3). even though it has surfaced in the 21st century. 7). As one who believes that the Restoration Plea is compatible with conservative biblical scholarship.. of placing too much emphasis on how one worships to the neglect of how one behaves in life. Our own penetration into the deeper aspects of Scripture. God’s people have a sad. whether it comes from the lips of someone who is progressive or someone who is conservative.
nevertheless. like David. including North America. about the church's calling. None of us can truly imagine the questions and issues that churches throughout the world.113 There is every reason to believe. or should some of this be left behind.85 aspects. There is much more that needs to be done. will be dealing with in the next decade. will come to fruition in ways that are often inscrutable and unpredictable to us mortals. We must ask questions about how the Body of Christ is to present itself to the world. Each of us. a Restoration Movement (rather than a Restoration Monument) has every hope for a vibrant existence. among others. Is the contemporary Body of Christ to be dressed with apparel worn by churches during the Patristic Period. including the world of the so-called Bible Belt. and during the American Restoration. simply because it no longer fits? Any attempt to be biblical requires a commitment to the globalization of God’s message. its mission and the foundation for its mission and message. including the one of unity. connecting afresh with the deep wells of God's eternal truth. that God’s goals. has the mandate to live in such a way that later generations will say that we. A laudable post Reformation slogan "The church has been reformed and must always be reformed according to the Word of God (ecclesia reformata. we need to revisit Scripture with questions. 113 . It seems to me that if we are going to continue the Restoration Plea. is still in its beginning stages. for example. semper reformanda secundum verbum dei)” captures the vision that the term Reformation (as Campbell called the movement) or Restoration denotes. With a firm commitment to nurturing indigenous Christian communities based upon Scripture and Biblical theology. notwithstanding the detours erected by human rebellion. during the Protestant Reformation. served God’s purpose in our own generation (Acts 13:36). It is obviously difficult to give answers to questions that are not yet even imagined! This is all the more reason to move forward in a proactive rather than a reactive fashion.
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