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Dr. Richard E. Oster, Jr. HUGSR • 1000 Cherry Road • Memphis, TN 38117 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
from the place of the Holy Spirit to the place of homosexuals in the church. 1996. Hughes.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. All organizations. Whether one applauds or anathematizes the history and issues of this generation. The Crux of the Matter: Crisis. and the Future of the Churches of Christ. Douglas A. or at least analogous. . 307-351. Lutheran. whether secular or sacred. and from the role of women to the role of works. Reese. Foster. A negative assessment of the various changes and agents for change in Churches of Christ in the current generation are catalogued by John Waddey. Jack R. pp. Childers. the reasons for the various ways in which we differ from our religious forebears are not mysterious or inexplicable. Furthermore.3 There is hardly an area of faith and practice that is not being examined by leaders and members of the Churches of Christ. There is nothing either unique or serendipitous about this particular facet of our current disposition. Tradition. 2004. 2001. including Presbyterian. Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America. The church of every generation and in every location will exist. challenges are also part of the history of several contemporary American denominations. both by the synergy and by the intrusion of culture(s). 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. will grow and will take its shape in the context of its surrounding culture(s). Similar. Southern Baptist. Books about the Change Movement: Reviews and Recommendations. The new perspectives offered in The Jesus Proposal can be more fairly evaluated when 3 Richard T. Jeff W. for good or ill. Roman Catholic and Episcopalian. From the issues of the pastorate to pacifism. will necessarily be impacted. nothing seems to lie outside the arena of reexamination.
These examples serve as a weathervane to indicate how forcefully and from which direction these new winds are blowing. 37:9).” Stone-Campbell Journal 9 (Fall 2006): 187-203. the validity of the Restoration Principle. 5 4 . 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. “Transition and Continuity: Biblical Scholarship in Today’s Church of Christ. In the current generation one now encounters publications from universities associated with Churches of Christ Mark W. that they may live” (Ezek. McCasland. They are noted. for others. and. the church of the living God” (1 Tim. S. For some these winds have come to refresh the spiritual air we breathe.6 seen in the setting of some of the other topics currently being reexamined. "Matthew Twists the Scriptures. 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. V. or the nature of fellowship and unity. however.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. The Bible The nature of the Bible. 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. they threaten to topple and destroy “the pillar and foundation of the truth. the nature of hell. as in the days of Ezekiel. to provide the reader of The Jesus Proposal with contemporary examples of this climate of critical inquiry. Hamilton. 3:15)." Journal of Biblical Literature 80 (1961): 143-48. its origin and its character are currently under discussion in Churches of Christ. to “breathe into these slain.
rev. 2002). (Carlisle. 2 (Abilene. Eds. The latter certainly played a role in the earlier evangelistic. Mark W.6 Other scholars. Edward William Fudge. Jimmy. The Fire that Consumes: Biblical Case for Conditional Immortality. God’s Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture. Kenneth L. Inspiration. Williams. James W. Yeoman Press. 7 8 6 Jividen. J. Williams. 181. “Inerrancy. 1998.” Restoration Quarterly 37 1995.7 that not only acknowledge the problem texts. 158-77. Hamilton. soul-winning preaching of Churches of Christ. “Is the Bible Inerrant?” in Directions for the Road Ahead. UK: The Paternoster Press. 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. Heart of the Restoration Series. Thompson. 39. Hell As a conservative and evangelistic fellowship. some publications have now advocated the untraditional doctrine known as annihilationism. but also believe that we should move beyond previous conservative answers. Sheerer and C. and Dictation. continue to affirm the views held in prior generations7 and argue that “There is no biblical authority without inerrancy. Likewise Joel S. ed. Myers. With the approach. TX: ACU Press. 2005. Moreover. vol. there is disregard for the traditional idea that a lost individual must personally suffer throughout eternity. 1994). Stability in Change Among Churches of Christ.9 Basically this doctrine of annihilationism states that the individual sent by God to Hell suffers rapid annihilation after being cast into Hell. Churches of Christ historically were committed to belief in and the preaching of the classic Christian doctrines of heaven and hell. Cukrowshki. however. 9 . Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures. p. At the present time the frequency and significance of sermons on hell have plummeted drastically in Churches of Christ. Edward P.
13 12 . “Restoration.p. 220. the critics ask. evangelist and emeritus professor of Bible at Harding University.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Robert O. 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. He now indicates that his beliefs are no longer held with the same certainty on this point. Historical Models of. Meaning of Within the Movement. Eds. Texas in 1964. Fife. A. by restoration? And. 2004. Robert Meyer..”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. he wishes that he “had never presented the sermon. Richard T. Hughes. what are we attempting to restore? Four decades ago Roy B.. Ward wrote an important article entitled “The Restoration 10 11 Jimmy Allen. Foster et alii.” Jimmy Allen now writes. “Sometimes. 639.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Eerdmans.”12 There have always been voices concerned with whether and how the “Restoration Principle” is valid. “Restoration. 1966). 13 Just what do we mean. 635-36. Voices of Concern: Critical Studies in Church of Christism (Saint Louis: Mission Messenger. after all. ed. Starting with a sermon preached during a two week Gospel Meeting held in Dallas. Jimmy Allen.”10 The Restoration Principle The Restoration Principle is one manifestation of faith and practice known as “Ecclesiastical Primitivism.8 Reexamination of this doctrine is seen even in the published thoughts of the well-known preacher. Fire in My Bones (Jeremiah 20:9) (n. D. 2004).
Kenneson. or Restoration Plea. 1996. “The ‘Women’s Issue’ and the Letter and Spirit of the Law. John Waddey. “Who’s in the Fellowship?” in Directions for the Road Ahead. complaints and suggestions. Piloting the Strait.17 As one might expect.9 Principle: A Critical Analysis. Star Bible Publications. numerous scholars in scores of essays have addressed the issue of the Restoration Principle.18 Roy E. Dr. Russ Dudrey. with a variety of questions. Behold the Pattern. 231 views restoration as a never ending attempt and process “to return to God’s perfect way. Jolivet complains. “Can the Restoration Movement Plea Survive if Belief in Objective Truth is Abandoned?” Stone-Campbell Journal 1 1998. Ira J. For discussion of the validity of the Restoration Plea in light of philosophical questions regarding objective truth see John D. p. 2004. interpreted their authoritative scriptures. “ ‘The Restoration Principle’: A Critical Analysis. unsupportable. so to speak.1 2005. The Churches of Christ are flawed in their approach to Scripture. 1991. including the apostle Paul and Jesus himself. who argued that the entire Restoration Plea and hermeneutic as formulated by Alexander Campbell is a theological failure. Others question the validity of these foundations in light of current philosophical issues. Sain Publications. “Can the Christian Faith Survive If Belief in Objective Truth is Abandoned? A Reply to John Castelein. Jolivet. 43-56. Dave Miller. Goebel Music Publications. Ira J.”16 This particular criticism represents but one facet of the multifaceted reexamination and rejection of the hermeneutical foundations of the Restoration Movement. Castelein. Jolivet.” 18 17 16 15 14 .” Leaven 13. Carl Mitchell.”14 In the decades since then. “because it is the exact opposite of the way the New Testament figures and writers. Goebel Music. p. there are still advocates for the traditional hermeneutic that dominated the Churches of Christ throughout former decades.” Restoration Quarterly 8 (1965): 197-210. 27-44 and Philip D.15 One of the most iconoclastic perspectives was offered quite recently by Prof. A Guidebook for Assessing Change in Churches of Christ. 47. “Restorationist Hermeneutics among the Churches of Christ: Why Are We at an Impasse?” Restoration Quarterly 30 (1988):17-42. at the very core of its hermeneutical DNA.” Stone-Campbell Journal 2 1999. Ward. Surviving the Storms of Change.
1962). Payne (London: SCM Press. 21 . Barth. two issues in particular have created the greatest obstacles to active fellowship and unity with other believers. Jimmy Allen. though our exegetical understanding is shared by a large number of scholars beyond our own ecclesiastical borders. 152ff. LA: Howard Publishing Company. the issue itself is too insignificant to divide modern believers from one another. Catholic. Ernest A. trans. The requirement of adult baptism has long been a wall of separation between Churches of Christ and other churches. The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism. sectarianism has become untenable. 19 20 F. and Orthodox churches. Re-Baptism: What One Must Know to be Born Again (West Monroe.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 2 (Spring 1998): 6-17. Robert H. Some suggest that while the practice of infant baptism may indeed be contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. is the teaching that in corporate worship singing should be congregational and a cappella. Who is my Brother? 21st Century Christian. G. second. Karl. “Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament. Beasley-Murray. Martin’s Press. R. 2003. Stein. LaGard Smith.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. 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. Baptism in the New Testament (New York: St. 1954).10 Fellowship and Unity The twin issues of unity and fellowship have understandably been in the spotlight in this current generation. 1991).19 the former because it is one of the foundational themes of the Restoration Movement and the latter because in the judgment of many. While there are several points at which the doctrines and practices of Restoration churches are distinct from many other churches.
Reese.p. 642. “Restoration Forums. [and] may be complementary. each of which needs the other to achieve theological completeness. thereby reducing. its importance for discussions of unity. convictions about congregational a cappella worship are declining. . Orthodox and Protestant theologians. 49-68. the two views [believer’s baptism and infant baptism] share many commonalities. Even if one thinks the authors Shelly and York are out on a limb. “Infant Baptism and the Boundaries of Christian Fellowship. 24 23 22 . College Press. Jack R. 123ff. it should be said that they are not out there alone. Milton Jones. Chris DeWelt. p.” Stone-Campbell Journal 5 2002. 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.11 Others brush aside suggestions that adult baptism is more biblical than infant baptism and argue that “Indeed. Hawkins.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. . The Other Side of the Keyboard. this brief survey was intended only to better appreciate the larger context of the reexamination presented in The Jesus Proposal. but not eliminating. 2005). the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. 2005. especially among large urban congregations of Churches of Christ. They are part of a growing and Ralph K. in terms of their purpose .24 As noted earlier.23 Unity meetings are being directed by prominent preachers who want to lead in reconnecting the a cappella churches with the Independent Christian Churches.”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 Body Broken: Embracing the Peace of Christ in a Fragmented Church (n. They view it rather as an issue of church tradition or personal conscience. thereby reuniting separated siblings. even a limb about to break.: Leafwood Publishers.
” Midstream-An Ecumenical Journal 28. 293. His thoughtful essay. p.3 1989. “The Irony of the Twentieth-Century Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Making it to the Mainline Just at the Time of its Disestablishment. a longtime theologian and historian for the Disciples of Christ. Since all paths have a destination and lead somewhere. This strong desire for recognition and acceptability “prompted us to downplay distinctive emphases in our tradition. to slowly emulate the journey the Disciples of Christ started approximately one hundred years ago. along with the sense of uniqueness which had been a key element of our identity. 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. Osborn. Prof. Ronald E. offered some realistic and poignant observations about the wrong paths taken by the Disciples of Christ for much of the 20th century.”25 Ronald E. Osborn.” highlights the Disciples of Christ’s 20th century quest to be regarded as a ‘mainline’ church. perhaps unintentionally. 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.
The Jesus Proposal. the issue of unity had often been associated with 26 27 28 29 The Jesus Proposal.13 POSTMODERN ADVOCATES AND FRUSTRATED CAMBPELLITES “The ‘proposal’ of the The Jesus Proposal. 538-54.”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.28 Nevertheless. . p. 149. . Christian. to the arguments they make and to the subsequent conclusions they draw. “Ecumenical Theology. Douglas A. 9-10. .” as stated by the authors.30 In the history of the Churches of Christ. Foster. the Postmodern atmosphere of the twenty-first century. 754-58. p. There is no precise definition of the term “unity” in The Jesus Proposal. Ed. 2nd ed.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. at the grassroots level. pp. “is that Christians from all denominations can benefit from . 21. An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century.”26 In the book itself. the authors strive “to explore.” in The Modern Theologians. 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. and offer a proposal for Christian unity that is so thoroughly Jesus-centered that it will commend itself to thoughtful believers from many quarters. pp. 1997. The Jesus Proposal. 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. experience. . 30 . Michael Root. D. “Unity.” meaning specifically that “we can experience relational unity in Christ — unity greater and more important than theological agreement . Ford. pp. F. .
" 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.”31 Since the authors are attracted to postmodernity. 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. Furthermore.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. And he stays as I work through them in my own muddleheaded way. and flexibility. "rather than offering answers. 7:29). He rarely responded with answers. 118. Their suggestion that the emphasis upon doctrine or doctrinal uniformity in the pursuit of unity is some recent 31 32 The Jesus Proposal. pp. 9-10. 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. Accordingly. their lack of emphasis upon the significance of doctrine for Christian unity comes as no surprise. . he loved reframing the circumstances with questions."32 This postmodern adaptation of Jesus creates significant difficulties for a historian of Second Temple Judaism or the early Roman Empire. and not as their teachers of the Law" (Matt. but none of them completely encapsulates it. p. The Jesus Proposal. association. In light of the authors’ acknowledged attraction to postmodernism. it seems hardly probable that Jesus was repeatedly tortured and brutally killed primarily because he clarified questions and reframed circumstances.
33 34 Philip Melachthon. The Jesus Proposal. Bible Wars and sectarian habits of the past. Melachthon remarks concerning Martin Luther that. "he constantly defended purity of doctrine. One is reminded of Philip Melanchthon's funeral oration at the death of Martin Luther. both of the Patristic as well as of the Reformation period. 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). 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.15 phenomenon in Christianity belies much of the history of the Christian faith. On the Death of Luther. Amidst several references to Luther's many virtues and accomplishments by the power of God. p. reflects the ethos of postmodernity more than it reflects an informed grasp of biblical theology or biblical missiology. The contemporary church must move beyond its previous doctrinaire orientation. 117-18. The abundant evidence and clarion voice of church history."33 The authors’ support of statements to the effect that if Christians would only live authentic Christian lives. 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. 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. then all the pagans in the world could be converted without the church having to use doctrine in any serious way. pp.34 Such postures that marginalize the significance of doctrine are alien to the faith and practice of the early church. Keep away from them” (Rom. 92. .
And from my perspective. regardless of their community. being decent to each other.” and certainly “was convinced that the Stone-Campbell heritage had much to offer the modern ecumenical movement. Too. I am certainly in support of anyone who wishes to responsibly use Scripture to beat back obvious remnants of mean-spiritedness. He was a “theologian and ecumenical activist of the British Churches of Christ in the mid-twentieth century. p. and acting as if we really were one.” He became the “recognized spokesman for British ‘free churches’ in general in the emerging ecumenical movement. pp. not if there is to be anything to unite worth uniting. 218-19. “Robinson. Louis: Bethany Press. The Biblical Doctrine of the Church. are germane to this point:36 But church union cannot be merely a matter of forgetting our differences. and It’s a Good Thing. William (1888-1963)” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. 654. obscurantism and doctrinal sectarianism in Churches of Christ. however. 215-16.16 Ronnie van der Poll has made a helpful observation in this regard. “There’s Such a Thing as Biblical Truth. attempts to accomplish far more than that. The Jesus Proposal. St.35 When a new paradigm ends up with a Bible without any objective truth that is universally true for all men.” Paul M. William Robinson. Those in the a cappella congregations may not know of William Robinson.” StoneCampbell Journal 6 2003. It is not the mere question of amiability. it clearly surrenders too much that is important in the process. Blowers. The words of the important ecumenist from the Stone-Campbell Movement. William Robinson.” often “represented the British Churches of Christ at the World Council of Churches. 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. 36 35 . we have to wonder if such a paradigm is still a Christian one. 1955.
they camped primarily upon the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. if we continue to give ourselves over to any truncated. As I repeatedly read and considered the arguments presented in The Jesus Proposal for . Rather than determining God’s truth and the mission of his elect on the basis of “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). with impunity. 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). seems to say That none are wrong and all are right. They thought they could select. If we neglect the biblical role of doctrine in Christian life and unity. it seems to me." approach to doctrine. they basically ignored the remainder of Scripture to their own detriment. spite of logic. We will remain in the dark alleys of church history. "pick and choose. truncation and a consumer-minded hermeneutic of Scripture.” From the perspective of this definition of insanity. This kind of attitude will get us nowhere except to an unruly anarchism. there is evidence of renewed insanity in the StoneCampbell Movement. A sane posture would lead us to learn from our painful past so that we do not wander in dim alleyways characterized by imbalance. to the degree that it neglects the whole will of God. A statement attributed to Albert Einstein says. which parts of the Scripture they wanted to use in a normative way. Then. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. 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. Consequently. which will be worse than the sectarianism it sought to cure. Churches of Christ paid a high price for their error in neglecting the Gospels and the Old Testament. As most would recognize.17 Which.
in their history. namely. the Churches of Christ. In particular. 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. Protestant. it became absolutely necessary in their thinking to fashion a new view of church 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. 37 . and typically not baptized by them. is basically identical to the Membership Directory of the one true church.” I could not always follow the steps of thought that led the authors down their path. Orthodox. 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. in particular a unity that reflected on earth the realities of heaven. perhaps ad nauseam. had to be in Christian union on the earth. By thinking in this manner. If the term “pluralism” seems too harsh. or Evangelical churches. or perhaps assumptions. 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. the White Pages of heaven. that the Lamb's Book of Life. a path that began in their own personal participation in sectarianism and ended in a seemingly pluralistic paradigm for Christian unity.18 “maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ. Thus everyone who was headed to heaven. of necessity. they heard teaching and preaching. Accordingly. 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.
even though they might not be in unity on earth. this conviction about the linkage between the earthly church and the population of heaven has been around for centuries. of the essential doctrines of the New Testament. but not the only one. it seems to me. Classic Roman Catholic doctrine held to a view similar to that held by the Churches of . clearly affirmed that there were Christians destined for heaven in various denominations. 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. The Campbells. Stated succinctly in the following phrase from the 3rd century catholic author Cyprian. In contrast to Shelly and York." 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. 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. is the fact that this view clearly did not characterize the outlook of the early thinkers in the Restoration Movement such as Alexander Campbell. To be fair to Shelly and York. "there is no salvation outside the church. 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. for example. salus extra ecclesiam non est. however.19 paradigm of their youth that the membership of church and the population of heaven are essentially identical. They rightly recognized that church union was one. however. and was not invented by thinkers in the Restoration Movement. that the authors brought to their proposal. Of greater significance for this discussion. and Robert Richardson.
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. It was perhaps because the early Restoration thinkers did not need to escape a Restoration Movement characterized by a strident sectarianism that they. 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. Walter M. the authors of The Jesus Proposal began their journey long before the term "postmodernism" was a regular part of their vocabulary. This leads me to think that it is not solely postmodernism that drives The Jesus Proposal. Beyond the sadness there is a painful tension created by these bi-polar attractions. even though the faith and practice of the church certainly must be.” in The Documents of Vatican II. 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.20 Christ for most of the 20th century regarding the “lostness” of those outside the one true church. It is my conviction that God's sovereignty is certainly not constrained by the Scriptures.38 believing now that there are “brethren” outside the Roman church. Association Press. 1966). 345-46. ed. in both faith and in practice. The Scriptures and their “Catholic Principles on Ecumenism. 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. Abbott (New York: Herder and Herder. 38 . I suspect that like so many others who were nurtured by rigid sectarianism (with all its baggage). unlike Shelly and York. The attitude of Roman Catholics toward Christian believers outside the "true church" mellowed following Vatican II.
1:13). present. for example. however. will be blessed at the final judgment since they. according to Jesus."39 I hardly think that Paul’s and Luke’s understanding about God forgiving Athenians would have encouraged Paul to seek unity with them. Ohio: The Standard Publishing Foundation. 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. J. 1892. W. .21 teachings were written to instruct and guide the elect of God. repented and obeyed it (Luke 11:28-32). would have imagined that this response by the Ninevites made them candidates for Jewish fellowship. received the mercy of God and."does whatever he pleases" (Pss. unlike some of Jesus’ contemporaries. New Commentary on Acts of Apostles. McGarvey. even though some would apparently be saved. Cincinnati. The issue of the ultimate salvation of infants and children. 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. unity or a place among the elect of God. 115:3. 18:4). This outlook certainly has approval in well recognized authorities in Churches of Christ. repented at the message of God’s word. and future. heard the Word of God. but they are hardly disciples of Jesus and 39 J. likewise points to the important distinction between citizenship in heaven and membership and union in the body of Christ. Neither Jonah nor Jesus. since obviously God -past. considered the possibility that individuals could be saved in the name of Christ even if they "do not know him or believe in him. for example. Infants will be saved. McGarvey. but certainly not God himself. W. 135:6. In the book of Jonah the Ninevites believed the Word of God. Jer.
22 members of the Body of Christ. .
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. The authors use church history. exegesis. rather than because of them. These names represent important traditions and historical perspectives beyond those of the Roman church and the various Orthodox communities of faith. autobiography and pragmatism will be necessary in order to give a fair hearing to the many facets of The Jesus Proposal. John Calvin. 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. including church history. theology. The church's romanticized view of the unity of earlier centuries is sometimes nothing more than naive hagiography and pious wishful thinking. autobiography and at times pragmatism to advocate their new basis for unity. but rather accomplished by the excommunication and physical punishment of other believers. entering the arenas of church history. History’s candid and unexpected answers often come to us in spite of our own questions. theology. can have the annoying habit of teaching us more than we asked it to. including Martin Luther. As such. Anabaptists teachers. While the arena of exegesis will certainly be at the center of my response. Sometimes.23 HISTORIOGRAPHY AND GEORGE ORWELL The Jesus Proposal is a mixture of various types of arguments and appeals. the price of achieving unity in earlier centuries was often not the compassionate persuasion of the opposition. for example. . either by ecclesiastical or civil authorities. It has been pointed out many times before that history.
to abuse and to assault other believers.40 Men are puffed up with knowledge or with false opinion of knowledge and look down upon others.24 Long before the Restoration Movement. Lamentably. listen to the words of the 16th century Christian author. Pride is followed by cruelty and persecution so that now scarcely anyone is able to endure another who differs at all from him. 40 Sebastian Castellio. or one’s appreciation for Luther and Calvin. 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. many of these efforts over the centuries scarred and disfigured the Body of Christ as badly as any division ever did. faith and practice. rests on the conviction that. let us agree that in the name of Jesus Christ believers should neither seek nor preserve unity by making refugees of. “The end justified the means. 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). At times an intended panacea to cure Christian division produced greater fatalities than the illness of schism. Sebastion Castellio. Concerning Heretics (1554):122-23 . Most of us recognize that something was profoundly wrong with the MedievalByzantine and Reformation efforts at unity that led believers to torture. ostensibly for Christ’s sake. I presume. by killing or by slandering other Christians. both for the benefits of unity as well as for the need to get everyone under the same orthodox umbrella of truth. church theologians struggled to unify all believers. written from the prison in which he died.” Unity at that price was not a particular blessing to the church or to the surrounding world. Lest one think this is some modern contrivance and caricature. The defense of these methods.
imprisonments. and not yet cleared up. division to the church. more of a pox than a pax for . 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.” 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.25 Although opinions are almost as numerous as men. can also illumine the antithetical experiences and perceptions of the unity engendered by these ostensible “ecumenical councils. History from the mid-twentieth century could provide us with some insight at this point. 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. if we have ears to hear. chains. 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. for so many centuries disputed. The same kind of antithetical experience that went with colonialism and which is articulated by postcolonial theory. From certain perspectives these councils and bishops brought painful and permanent. There is now a postcolonial recognition that the view from the bottom is usually not the same as the view from the top. 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. primarily as European colonial powers surrendered their chokehold on vast regions of other continents. Since WWII we have seen a radical rearrangement of nations and boundaries. stakes and gallows and this miserable rage to visit daily penalties upon those who differ from the mighty about matters hitherto unknown. Hence arise banishments. at least to this point.
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). 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. 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 . a minimalist interpretation of the gospel. slaughter. As one reads of the barbaric and ungodly treatment of “unorthodox” Christians by other ostensibly “orthodox” Christians. 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. lasting for centuries. Preconceived ideas and partisan commitments can infect the retelling of religious history as well as political history. The point of comparison is not the violence. The Romans. 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. he states. plunder. 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.26 them. 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.
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. The 20th century author George Orwell frequently addressed the issue of propaganda and revisionist history through his novels and essays. With the recent celebration of the 60th anniversary of VJ Day. then the past must be accurately depicted. then it would be easier to overlook their suspicious retelling of Restoration History. the burden of proof rests with the authors of this new proposal. Given the dramatic appeals in the book based upon church history. If The Jesus Proposal suggested only modest adjustments to the Restoration Plea. If new views and paradigms are constructed and advocated based upon the telling of stories from the past. however. and he made numerous points that we all should learn from. One nation’s former hero is all too often another nation’s most savage nightmare. He was thoroughly disillusioned by the “propaganda as . religious. The pervasive tendency to rewrite the past in order to satisfy the needs of contemporary political. of course. And. they in fact are calling for a coup d'etat in the hermeneutical methods and general direction of Churches of Christ.27 history. it should bother also us. The contrast in the collective memory of these different peoples is not only sharp at times. I give this contemporary illustration just to highlight how pervasive this issue is in appealing to one’s own view of history. but also even volatile and explosive because of disputed political. religious and cultural propaganda bothered Orwell tremendously. military and cultural behaviors. Since. the standards of historical accuracy should be above reproach. 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.
”41 The Jesus Proposal presents a view of the first generation Protestant Reformers like Luther and Calvin. truth becomes merely a personal construct based on how we “connect the dots” based upon our human experiences. as a “kinder George Orwell. 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. “As I Please. 1984. methods and dangers of revisionist tendencies with these words. One of his famous novels.28 history” phenomenon as he experienced it through British imperialism and colonialism (pax Britannica). 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. available from http://www. 41 . Internet. 4 February 1944. In Orwell’s world of Newspeak and Doublethink he wonders if truth can even exist and be recognized. accessed 21 February 2007. Religious history has never been spared the bane of revisionism. truth is often conceived of as no more than each individual’s experience of the truth. later through Nazi rhetoric and even later through Communist lies.netcharles. In the context of the 21st century intellectual climate that has invaded much historical writing. unlike the southern Churches of Christ the authors grew up in.htm#Feb4.” Orwell’s words are a solemn reminder to all that history is often vulnerable to misrepresentation and distortion. and modern readers should be informed that historians of Restoration History can themselves be advocates of certain paradigm shifts.com/orwell/essays/asiplease1944-01.” Tribune. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. highlights the techniques.
268. 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. 1971). For the record. . Luther advocated that the homes. shops and synagogues of Jews should be burned to the ground. The Jesus Prop[osal. p.44 Both the Protestants and Catholics of the 16th century maimed and killed hundreds of Anabaptists. 177. For the Lunenburg Letter. The Christian in Society. 126-28. On the Jews and Their Lies. “The Lunenburg Letter. he certainly had no qualms in demonizing and expelling Christian opponents. pp. The religious rhetoric and behavior of the 16th century can hardly be characterized as irenic and non-judgmental. 47.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. 65 Martin Luther. 498-99. pp.”46 Whatever weight one assigns to the 42 43 The Jesus Proposal. Franklin Sherman (Philadelphia: Fortress Press. all in the name of God and spiritual truth.43 and while Luther did argue against killing one’s Christian opponents. ed. Like it or not. see Leroy Garrett. 185.29 and gentler” type of piety. John Calvin argued vigorously over doctrinal issues and on one occasion had a dissenting believer burned at the stake.42 This is an unrealistic view of aspects of that century. The authors of The Jesus Proposal45 believe that religious significance and leadership should still be given to earlier Restoration thinkers such as Alexander Campbell. 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. 56-7. but with the caveat that one must be careful not to merely recreate these early leaders in our own image. one characterized by acceptance and toleration of one’s antagonists. 44 45 46 Michael Servetus in 1553. vol. I concur. in Luther’s Works.
It seems to me that this portrayal of the early Restoration thinkers consists of too much wishful thinking. which cannot withstand the test of historical realities and ecclesiastical 47 48 49 50 The Jesus Proposal.50 It seems disingenuous to imply that the Campbells would have applauded and supported the notions advocated in The Jesus Proposal.30 thinkers of the Restoration Movement in formulating a contemporary unity plea. of recreating the past in our own image or within our own comfort zone is certainly nothing new.48 While this appeal to these early Restoration documents has rhetorical value for persuasion and advocacy. it would be misleading to suggest that the early Restoration leaders would embrace the paradigm of unity articulated in The Jesus Proposal. This human tendency. the selective use of the historical sources found in The Jesus Proposal (whether intentional or not) is certainly not commendable. 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. pp. 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.” the “same mind” and the “same judgment. Specifically. In some places The Jesus Proposal47 approves the spirit and orientation of Barton W. 56-8. Nevertheless. 213 .” and at other times Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address is cited as a precedent. pp. 56-7. pp. The Jesus Proposal. The Jesus Proposal.” 49 This conviction of Thomas Campbell’s is the very perspective that The Jesus Proposal rejects and strives in earnest to overturn. 46-7. which stalks all of us. p. Stone’s “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.
”53 In any event. Louis: Christian Publishing Co.. 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. These differences of view are in fact what created denominationalism. Cincinnati. 64. 53 The Jesus Proposal. p.”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. The True Basis of Christian Union. p. 51 52 The Jesus Proposal. A Sermon Preached in the Central Christian Church. intensified in the theology of the Restoration Movement. this assessment fails to cohere with the 2000-year-old identification of the church. Given the Campbells’ antipathy to widespread denominationalism and division in the Body of Christ. and a union depending on their seeing alike can never be. 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. p. and practice that create different denominations. 7. March 5. They read some biblical texts differently and are members of different denominations.31 history. 1871. taste.51 They [intelligent and decent people] join different political parties. 1888. 3:15). . while at the same time marginalizing their concern for doctrinal unity. Isaac Errett. St. The marginalization of concern for doctrine is expressed in the following quotation. they would be stunned to learn of writers invoking their names and publications with approval. 214. But there is nothing inherently sinful about varieties of understanding.
“Alexander Campbell's 'Sermon on the Law': A Historical and Theological Examination.” Restoration Quarterly 29 (1987):71-85. The authors attempt to present a view of God that neutralizes the sectarian judgementalism that they had experienced in their youth. Christians should not take too seriously the doctrinal errors of others.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. similar problems are manifest in particular characterizations of narratives located in Scripture. “Sermon of the Law. p. Their particular strategy at this point is to argue that for the sake of unity. Ferguson. .” 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.” Encyclopedia of Stone-Campbell Movement. 196-97. 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. and which at times they themselves promoted. we have no monopoly on these types of hermeneutical issues and blind spots. pp. E.55 54 55 The Jesus Proposal. in Churches of Christ. even when these practices and beliefs fly in the face of Scripture.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. Ferguson. 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. 680. a shorter discussion is available in E.
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. but also protected him (Gen. spiritual precedence and examples from the Old Testament. Obviously Cain deserved to die for fratricide. 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.33 Basically Hezekiah. laws and prophecies “were written down as warnings for us” (1 Cor. 30:18-20). 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. 8:21). First of all. but the Lord constrained his wrath and promised with the rainbow not to treat humans as they . I would. in seeking theological affirmation. Every human being living after Noah deserved to die since God’s diagnosis is “every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. king of the southern tribe of Judah. however. voice three concerns about this reconstruction of the Hezekiah story and the suggested ecumenical implications drawn from it. 4:13-15). Though it has often been unpopular to think so. One must applaud the authors’ convictions. however. demonstrated in their use of the book of 2 Chronicles. 3:17). this approach acknowledges the intent of God through the Old Testament. these Old Testament stories. God not only spared him. 10:11) and to make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. Not all of the Israelites from the northern tribes came to this “ecumenical” Passover banquet arranged by Hezekiah. As Paul observed.
for his mercy is great. as your fathers were. who were unfaithful to the LORD. . The list from the Old Testament of chapters and verses that teach this conviction is rather long. and it has certainly not been emphasized enough in either past or present discussions about unity. Serve the LORD your God. 24:14). He will not turn his face from you if you return to him (2 Chron. 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. 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 stiff-necked. Come to the sanctuary. Do not be like your fathers and brothers. . . We should not forget that Hezekiah is the ruler of a theocratic monarchy in the South. pluralism and the flexibility advocated by postmodernism: People of Israel. so that his fierce anger will turn away from you. . return to the LORD. . which he has consecrated forever. however.34 deserved. but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (2 Sam. . . It strikes me. 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 king’s appeal to the fellow Israelites in the North is laced with threats of divine wrath for disobedience. submit to the LORD. . Intercessory prayer is a rich theme in Scripture. Even when punishment was deserved for sin. 30:6-9). These words and sentiments from 2 Chronicles hardly bespeak tolerance. . David knew that it was preferable to “fall into the hands of the LORD. Second. as premature when one ends this discussion with a reference to “the prayer of Good King Hezekiah for those who are flawed in certain . the God of their fathers.
” Making decisions to worship in ways “contrary to what was written” arose from crisis and necessity.35 interpretations and practices”56 without making reference to the fuller context. 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. and not only their remote ancestors. the God of his fathers” (2 Chron. . the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah. Therefore many of Hezekiah’s decisions regarding the Temple and its ceremonies had to be conducted from the perspective of an “emergency situation. the importance of Hezekiah’s restoration of the Temple and its proper worship are readily apparent. long before Hezekiah. smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. 31:1). p. 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. 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. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh. In fact. not from doctrinal indifference and religious inclusivism. After they had destroyed all of them. Finally. When all this had ended. the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property (2 Chron. 30:19). God had already stipulated exceptions. The pardon for which Hezekiah prayed was for “everyone who sets his heart on seeking God — the LORD. This joint participation in the Jerusalem Passover required the repudiation by the northern Tribes of the religious heritage of their current families. 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 the 56 The Jesus Proposal.
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. The Chronicler reports. . The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. Thus. 29:2). Even the Jews in the South initially had to worship in ways that did not follow the teaching of Moses. circumstances precluded this from happening early in Hezekiah’s reform. even though the Mosaic Law required that the Passover be celebrated in the “first month” (Exodus 12:1-20). 31:20-21) was mirrored in his deep devotion to the Temple. festivals. 30:2-3). 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. 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. 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. the correctness of the priests along with their ceremonies. 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. 9:11). This punctilious mindset of Hezekiah (liturgically speaking my way or the highway) can hardly be associated with postmodern ecumenical efforts and an inclusivistic demeanor. sacrifices and the accuracy of genealogical records.36 second month on the fourteenth day” (Num.
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.
pp. “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. The True Basis of Christian Union. Alexander. death. teachings. 133-34. 15:3 as the “bedrock of the gospel.65 Tom Olbricht.63 Campbell acknowledged the concept of "core" and on the basis of this concept he argued that all beliefs. College Press Publishing. The Core Gospel. doctrines and values were not equidistance from the heart of God. From a similar perspective Isaac Errett. His Love Compels. Abilene Christian University Press. 10 cites 1 Cor. 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.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Death. Love. p. Olbricht. 1865. ACU Press. sufferings. in his work entitled The Core Gospel. pp.” Cf.”64 This quest has re-emerged in the current generation as a significant point in theological thinking among Churches of Christ.” For Alexander Campbell these seven points were the Birth. My Life with Scripture in the Churches of Christ. The Sacrificial Message of God from the New Testament. Errett continued. Burial. 516-17. 12-13. 2000.” If Christ himself was the foundation.41 piece Campbell enumerated seven foundational points of theology “that constitute the whole gospel. life. Life.66 and some of Olbricht’s former students at 63 Alexander Campbell. Love. 1996. “Campbell. 64 65 66 Isaac Errett. Olbricht. 1992. Hearing God’s Voice. Thomas H. resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Advocates for the quest for a core include Bill R. I first learned of this essay by Alexander Campbell from Leroy Garrett. “that foundation was not laid except in the incarnation. and Coronation of Christ. Bill R. preached. who saw himself as an heir of Campbell. Resurrection. 338. . Millennial Harbinger Nov. Thomas H. Ascension. p.
The authors not only avoid locating too many doctrines at the center of the faith. or even all doctrines taught by Jesus. Examples of this doctrinal The Crux of the Matter.67 If for a moment one can hold in abeyance the suggested “anchor point” of the “death. . chapter 7. In particular. but also eschew putting at the center doctrines that are of minimal significance or that receive only minimal attention in the pages of Scripture. esp. burial. the authors of The Jesus Proposal wisely avoid some of the classic mistakes made by previous generations of leaders in Churches of Christ. 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. then the serious problems embedded within the proposed core of The Jesus Proposal rapidly become apparent. 2:2) language of 1 Corinthians in order to consider the evidence of Acts. Tradition. 15:1-4) and the “to know nothing . . the other Pauline epistles. and resurrection” (1 Cor. 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. and the Future of the Churches of Christ.68 The transformation of simple biblical statements of faith into elaborate ecclesiastical dogma. 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. a type of doctrinal alchemy. and the remainder of the New Testament. To their credit.42 ACU. where Childers sometimes regards the core as the Bible’s “center of gravity”. except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. . 68 67 Some marginal ideas are found many times while significant themes are rarely mentioned. most recently in the contribution of Jeff Childers in the book The Crux of the Matter: Crisis.
As the early leaders of the Restoration Movement knew from experience. the affirmation of these (and scores of additional) biblical concepts about the Father.43 alchemy. 69 . the Son. Matt. philosophy and theology.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. include matters such as the Millennium of Rev.g. performed in later centuries to satisfy the needs of piety. and the Spirit (e. that the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus of Nazareth. 2 Cor. 20. and that God’s Spirit has been poured out upon the elect in these last days. the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ and speculative Trinitarianism. The Scriptures clearly teach the oneness of God. 28:19. 13:14) are rarely regarded as adequate for speculative Trinitarians.. his unique Son.
Notwithstanding the significance of God’s work 2000 years ago. without the dynamic contemporary reign of the enthroned Christ. the Father. Without these additional three. Specifically. When the authors work in the area of Christology. one's core remains insufficient for the task of advocating for "a theological framework for maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ.” Beyond the "death. their portrait is noticeably remiss to the ascension and enthronement of Christ." In particular. we are left with artifacts. from whom all things come and for whom we live” (I Cor 8:6) in the doctrine and piety of the New Testament. for a "theological framework for maintaining unity. particularly God’s judgment of his creatures and the kingdoms of this world. If the work of God through his Son is to move beyond the incarnation. The Jesus Proposal offers a “theological anchor point” that is too truncated. delegated by the Father and manifested in his enthronement of his beloved Son. tomb and resurrection of 2000 years ago. to use the authors' words. and resurrection. burial." 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]. it is devoid of any significant exploration and conversation about God the Father and accordingly overlooks the central role of the “one God.44 NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT Nevertheless. Christ's authority and rule. and the eschatological judgment of God. albeit spectacular artifacts. Finally. Perhaps the history and conditions of the contemporary western church necessitate the church's ambivalence about God's . of a religion of the distant past. the core proposed by the authors of The Jesus Proposal does not in my judgment supply all that is required. must come into sharper view and move toward the center in a more dramatic way. The Jesus Proposal offers an “anchor point” devoid of any substantive eschatology. the enthronement and rule of Christ.
and he spoke constantly about the One who was central to his thinking. a core limited to one statement found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.. cannot be ignored in issues of Christian unity. to the theological “core” presented by The Jesus Proposal.70 Paul was a God-intoxicated man. is worth citing. 15:28). in my judgment. New Testament Theology. prayers and apologetics. God the Father rather than Christ the Son is the focal point of the New Testament. Everything he dealt with he related to God. 1986. . I will argue that these three truths – the central role of God the Father (theocentrism). the eschatological vision and perspective of the New Testament will remain forever beyond their grasp. 70 Leon Morris. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ. 25. as the word "saints" denotes. Leon Morris’s perspective in this matter. God the Father Notwithstanding the impression left by Christian hymns. and God’s eschatological judgment – are exceedingly pervasive and significant doctrines in the New Testament. . 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. It seems to me that until Churches of Christ intentionally behave like a sub-culture. especially regarding Paul. . . p. an improvement and necessary addition. These three theological convictions reflect. but these. These three surely do not encompass all the theological components that might be shared for Christian unity. I argue. devotional literature. Christ’s enthronement and rule.45 eschatological judgment.
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch..” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. One of the more egregious examples of this christocentric aberration in recent literature is found in the words of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. pp. “Marcion (ca. p. 2003. but rather that God is actually Christlike. The Gospel According to John: Part II 11:1-21:35.73 Jesus' own pronouncements that "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:26) and “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. To say this more technically. 70. The Shaping of Things to Come. TX: ACU Press. Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church.71 and numerous Protestant scholars continue to address the abysmal disregard for the Old Testament and God the Father in theology. 37. Blowers. 2:714-715. 392457).A. Hendrickson Pub. “Doctrine of God. The Living Word Commentary (Abilene. D. “No one is good — except God alone" (Mark 10:18) continue to fall largely upon deaf ears in contemporary Churches of Christ. The Churches of Christ certainly have no monopoly on this flawed emphasis upon christocentrism. (God is Christlike and in him is no unChristlikeness at all).72 The remarkable truth is not so much that Jesus is Godlike.74 For a description of Marcion’s heresy see Everett Ferguson. 1997).46 Lamentably far too much of theology has been christocentric rather than theocentric.. Paul M. . all theology must now be understood through Christology.” in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. . This disregard for the Old Testament and theocentrism can be found all along the theological spectrum. ed. 356-59. Carson. The far-reaching tentacles of the Marcionite heresy of the early church continue to reach into the modern era of the church. 1977). Everett Ferguson (New York: Garland Publishing. . 2d ed. Frank Pack. Even in the Restoration Movement discussions about the “Doctrine of God” have regrettably too often been articulated in terms of Christology. The Gospel According to John 74 73 72 71 .
508. Perhaps it arose when the church began to read the Scriptures backwards rather than forwards. the way it was intended. Consider the following translations from two different versions of the text of Colossians 1:15-20. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. . This was the same type of skewed perspective. 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. for example.47 The unified witness of the New Testament is so thoroughly theocentric that one wonders how Christianity became Christocentric so soon. 1991). Sometimes even the wording of certain English translations have obscured the presence of theocentrism.
p. 2 Cor. 3:11)? Furthermore. But. 4:12. Eph.” Even though Paul often discusses the church in association with the imagery of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. Foreward by Mark Noll. 230. 26:28. how is theocentrism compatible with the emphases of the famous "Christ hymn" in Phil.” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement. 5:23. 11:16. Baker.” Interestingly. 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. the phrase “Churches of Christ” occurs with even less frequency in the New Testament (Rom. an outlook certainly not normative for Scripture. InterVarsity Press.” “brothers. 1:22-3. Based upon the three occurrences in the New Testament (Acts 11:26.” and “saints. “An Evangelical Response to Ferguson. 1:1. 4:16). 10:32. The TNIV's wording makes it clearer that Christ is the agency through whom the Father acted as Creator. Clear terms of choice in the New Testament include words such as "disciples. Col. 16:16) than does the term “Christian. 75 . then why are we called the Churches of Christ? If theocentrism is valid. Ed. the term “Christian” is hardly a term of choice used by Jesus or his earliest disciples.48 I have known more than one Christian who drew from the NIV's wording that Jesus was the Creator. 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. 12:27. then what did Paul mean by “Christ is the only foundation” (1 Cor. isn’t Christ supposed to be the center of the Christian faith. Holloway and Lowery. 2002. Stanley Grenz. 2:5-11? Turning to some of the preceding objections to theocentrism. 1 Pet. William R. 15:9. it is not even clear whether believers or their antagonists coined the word. one understandably asks? Isn’t the centrality of Christ manifested in the fact that we are called “Christians?” If christocentrism is flawed. 1:18-9)." “believers. 1:2.
” according to Paul. 1:13. Translation. and “God’s temple” (1 Cor. or lack of it. 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. 1 Tim. The church's artwork and architecture. 1224-25. Furthermore. 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. then there is no need even to debate whether the enthronement and reign of the Son of God have been neglected.49 Gal. Thus the building in which Christ serves as the “only foundation” (1 Cor. While Jesus’ physical departure from earth is classically portrayed only in Acts 1. 3:9). and Notes. 5. In the context of 1 Corinthians 3 and its metaphors. “God’s building” (1 Cor.76 his subsequent enthronement at the right hand of God exercises a prominent role in the New Testament. 3:10-15) is none other than “God’s building. 2 Thess. Joseph A. this third chapter of 1 Corinthians ends with a theocentric affirmation when the apostle writes to the Corinthians. John Nolland. 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. vol. cf. Word Biblical Commentary. speaks volumes about its theological emphases. 1985). NY: Doubleday. 35c (Dallas. “and you are of Christ. Paul and Apollos are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). Luke 18:35-24:53. 1:4. Ascension-Enthronement Until the art and iconography of the church gives equal attention to the enthroned Christ as it does to the crucified Christ. TX: Word Books. 3:9) and the Corinthians are “God’s field” (1 Cor. 1586-89. The Anchor Bible (Garden City. Fitzmeyer. 3. . Acts 20:28) rather than Churches of Christ. 1993). The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV): Introduction. 3:23). 3:16-17). and Christ is of God” (1 Cor.
is ubiquitous in the Christology of LukeActs. a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph.50 theology of Churches of Christ is Peter’s robust doctrine of Christ’s ascension-enthronement (Acts 2:25-36). 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. non-royal and non-enthroned perspective undermines important teachings found throughout the NT. The authors argue that Jesus decided not to “conduct seminars in biblical doctrine” (cf. 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 . 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. loving.77 The Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 77 78 John Chrysostom Homilies on The Acts of the Apostles 1. . Yet. The Jesus Proposal wants to lead its readers to the opposite conclusion. even an important one. The virgin’s name was Mary. 5:17ff) but rather to “exhort his followers to upright. . which provides the Jewish backgrounds to the enthronement theology of the New Testament. 79 The Jesus Proposal. This attempt to grasp who Jesus is from a non-Davidic. Luke goes to great lengths to construct and sustain an intentional Davidic Christology. 7). and compassionate treatment of their fellow human beings. pp. especially in the writings of Luke.”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. 159-60. Jesus' emphasis upon "small doctrines" in Matt.”79 I would hope that no one attempts to define Jesus' own mission on the basis of one story alone. .
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. Luke typically gives more attention to the earlier evangelistic sermons in the ministries of Peter (Acts 2) and of Paul (Acts 13). Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. 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. Accordingly. because he belonged to the house and line of David. "Christ crucified. he is Christ the Lord. in fact.51 Luke 1:32 Luke 1:69 Luke 2:4 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High." or the "risen Christ. Rather than giving every apostolic sermon equal space. always supported by the firm conviction regarding Christ’s enthronement. Luke 2:11 In addition to the centrality of an enthroned Messiah in Luke's formulation of the birth narratives of Jesus. 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. to Bethlehem the town 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. These foundational and paradigmatic sermons of both Peter in Jerusalem and Paul in Pisidian Antioch promote an explicit Davidic Christology. just as he had been in the infancy narratives. Luke was intentional in these preaching summaries from Acts 2 and 13. to connect Christ to David and to the Davidic Covenant." Notwithstanding Mel Gibson's magnification of the vicarious suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit . For the apostle Paul it is the reality of the enthronement of the Christ.” said Jesus. one should heed both Paul's admonitions about honoring the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:10) that undergirds these admonitions concerning unity. the ascension Christology from the same chapter of Ephesians. 4:3) and the “unity of the faith” (Eph. The statements concerning unity must not be ripped from the soil of the surrounding theology. 4:10-13. 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. 4:3 and 4:13) and the nearby ascension Christology manifest in Eph. As the following citation of verses highlights. who “is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens.” (Eph. Seeing what was ahead. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God. It should come as no surprise. As such. Exalted to the right hand of God. "Is a theology of the ascended and enthroned Messiah connected directly with unity?" If the two are connected. nor did his body see decay. at the same time. then. and we are all witnesses of the fact. without the ministry of the ascended and enthroned Lord. numerous vital facets of New Testament theology and spirituality would simply disappear and the Body of Christ would remain anemic. Brothers.52 One might ask. 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. 4:13) and. I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried. 1:10. that he was not abandoned to the grave. 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. and his tomb is here to this day. he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.” But from now on. in order to fill the whole universe. Mark 14:62 Luke 22:69 Acts 2:29-36 “I am. God has raised this Jesus to life. 20-23.
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’. 1:20-22 Phil. to the glory of God the Father. 8:1 Heb. Jesus Christ. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. For David did not ascend to heaven. scorning its shame. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. and sat down at the right hand of the throne 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. . it is clear that this does not include God himself. and yet he said. 8:34 1 Cor. whom God has given to those who obey him. 15:25. you have been raised with Christ.53 and has poured out what you now see and hear. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. 12:5 . who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. who put everything under Christ. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. 27 Eph. authorities and powers in submission to him. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. She gave birth to a son. where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Rom. both Lord and Christ. who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. and every title that can be given. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 2:9-11 Col.” Christ Jesus. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. in heaven and on earth and under the earth. and so is the Holy Spirit. set your hearts on things above. far above all rule and authority. 3:1 Heb. 12:2 1 Pet. . We are witnesses of these things. the author and perfecter of our faith. “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. 1:13 Heb. who for the joy set before him endured the cross. Since.” Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him. . For he “has put everything under his feet. whom you crucified. who died — more than that. power and dominion.” Acts 5:30-33 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. then. 3:21-22 Rev. a male child. who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels. To which of the angels did God ever say.
”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. including a forced genuflection and confession from God’s enemies and a subjugation of the kingdoms of this world. . 2004. . InterVarsity Press. my sins and my mortality. p. 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. basic Christian belief. While the cross of Christ was foolishness to pagans. 11:15-17). Howard Marshall. 720. and resurrection” is that this keeps the focus comfortably on what God has done for me. the enthronement of Christ was alarming and threatening to them (Acts 17:6-7). . New Testament Theology. resurrection and exaltation of Jesus constitute the saving event . 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. bespeaks Lordship. burial. 696. The death. p. . I. since they generally prefer a Savior rather than a King. Churches in North America are not especially attracted either to the kingship of Christ. Many Witnesses.54 Regarding the importance of the ascension-enthronement I. The enthronement of Christ. Howard Marshall concludes. All of this kind of language and worldview radicalizes the Christian message and raises its level of annoyance to outsiders. One Gospel. New Testament Theology. “Peter’s understanding of salvation is likewise close to that of Paul. however.”81 Since the current neglect of enthronement theology cannot be explained by the infrequency and faintness of its voice in the New Testament. and it subverted any hope of true Christianity becoming an attractive civil religion.
13:36-43. 12. James 4:12. 16:27. 20:11-15).” we would be remiss to categorically ignore this doctrine in contemporary discussion of issues central to faith and unity. 1:9-10): “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. Yet. it would be difficult to regard the New 82 The Jesus Proposal.” “wandering away from the truth. who rescues us from the coming wrath.” “godless chatter. 17. Paul’s sermon in Athens (Acts 17:31) certainly included a message about God’s “judgment of the world.” 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. and to wait for his Son from heaven. Heb. p. Acts 10:42. since Paul himself (2 Tim. 4:5. 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. 2:16-18) believes that the teaching of distorted eschatology is sometimes to be associated with phrases such as “gangrene. 9:27-28. with its pillars of the final resurrection and judgment. 24:25. Furthermore. in his summary of the conversion of the Thessalonian believers. 25:1-46.” and “destroying the faith of some. Since these new converts in Thessalonica and Athens came from audiences that were primarily pagan rather than Jewish. 1:17. whom he raised from the dead — Jesus. 209 . 1 Pet.55 Eschatological Judgment The third egregious omission from The Jesus Proposal and its theological anchor point is the New Testament doctrine of eschatology. John 5:22-30. Rev. 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. Paul mentions this dimension of their turn to Christianity (1 Thess.” Likewise. 2:23.
of the ascendancy of consumer Christianity and western pluralism in recent decades. That is. the voice of Scripture is often marginalized. In reality. 5:9. or. Furthermore. it also played a decisive role in Paul's teachings to believers. No matter how clarion and how loudly the Scriptures speak about the certainty of the wrath of God. anywhere in Acts. 1 Cor. Gal. 83 . 4:5. 45-60. then God will treat him as such. If this conviction about eschatology was so clear in the mind and speech of Jesus and the early church. in fact. (New York: The Macmillan Company. what led to its evaporation in the current generation. 3:6. Paul’s doctrine of the eschatological wrath of God was not taught solely to describe God's treatment of non-believers. 2:12. many Dieterich Bonhoeffer. In lieu of finding guidance and insight for preaching and teaching in the sermons and narratives of Acts. Eph. 2:2-8. 1:5. 2 Tim. The Cost of Discipleship. if a believer continues to act like a non-believer. 5:10. 5:6.83 I find it more than a little peculiar that many modern preachers in the West. 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. Col. 4:1. but also of their own eschatological destiny if they continued in behavior that resembled their non-believing contemporaries (Rom. 2 Cor.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. 11:31-2. subverted and neutralized by the Bride of Christ's own illicit and idolatrous love affair with a permissive agape-love. who would claim to be biblical and evangelical. 2 Thess. 1963). 1:8-9. 3:6. 8). 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. 14:10. it seems to me. rev ed. In this way he taught believers not only of the destiny of their nonbelieving contemporaries.
nothing would seem out of the ordinary. when they preached about the necessity of knowing God through Jesus Christ.57 contemporary believers recite John 3:16 and Matthew 7:1 as mantras for spiritual tranquility and guidance. “Interview with Joel Osteen. 21:00 ET. “Interview with Reverend Billy Graham. 2005. Joel Osteen. 1973).84 That is no longer the case.85 After spending over 700 pages looking at the various books of the New Testament and the variety of their theological voices. aired December 25. Nicholi II.” interview by Larry King. It was not too long ago that conservative believers consistently regarded homosexual lifestyle by Christians as sinful. when leading preachers from "Bible believing" churches and ministries refuse to preach about the doctrine of God's wrath against sin. one is forced to conclude that this is not the "old time religion" of conservative churches.” interview by Larry King. Is it possible to give an account of this core? The main theme. A new era seems to have arrived. CNN Larry King Live. I. Howard Marshall states. however. 21:00 ET. Throughout the New Testament we are presented Armand M. 295-97. Likewise. 2005. when a self-acknowledged fundamentalist preacher evaluates the spiritual condition of Hindus on the basis of their sincerity.” in Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Carl F. If this above-described situation existed principally among liberal Protestant and Catholic scholars and denominations. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. H. aired July 3. Billy Graham. ed. 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. CNN Larry King Live. History has come to expect the abandonment of traditional views by the left wing of Christendom. “Homosexualism and Homosexuality. 85 84 .
An important intersection of unity and God's judgment is made clear in Paul's treatment of both flagrant moral sins (1 Cor. 3:11-12) and also in the closing chapters of the Apocalypse of John (Rev. 717-18. 22. . 17:7. it is noteworthy that at times a firm commitment to eschatology actually led to the dissolution of visible unity among believers. final judgment and the destruction of evil . New Testament Theology. Regarding God's eschatological judgment. evident in his allegorical interpretation of Genesis 21:9-12.58 with a religion of redemption. that the churches of Galatia “get rid of” agitating Jewish Christian brothers who oppose Paul's own 86 Marshall. 24:7) with the goal of the sinner's repentance so that he will escape God's eschatological wrath. 19:13. 21:8). .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. God will bring his redemptive action to its consummation with the parousia of Christ. . 13:5. 19. 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. In these instances unity must be dissolved since one of the two groups is destined for the wrath of God. 12. . . 5:9-13) and egregious doctrinal errors (Gal. 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. 24. 21:21. In these instances it was Paul’s conviction and practice to discourage the continuation of unity already existing between believers. from cover to cover. 20:10-15. . In the latter case of false teaching Paul insists. 22:21. p. 21:9. 4:28-31). . In the former case of moral sins Paul adapts the thematic “purge the evil” texts from Deuteronomy (Deut. so to speak.
and resurrection for us” must be relegated to the lesser matters of “denominational background. In both instances Paul demands that believers terminate the practice of unity because of the sinful behavior or erroneous doctrine among other believers.59 particular doctrinal view and practice of mission to the Gentiles as revealed to him by God. This common “core” was not sufficient for unity in the setting of the Galatian issues. as affirmed by the authors of The Jesus Proposal. 4:28-31). The stated conviction that anything beyond “the central story of Christ’s death. burial and resurrection. Paul had no ground upon which to frustrate the unity within the churches of Galatia. 87 The Jesus Proposal. There can be no doubt historically that Paul’s opponents in Galatia also shared a common faith with Paul in these “core” beliefs. 210. Rather than demanding that the churches of Galatia embrace these false brothers who also believed in the "death. burial and resurrection" of Jesus. burial. 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.” 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. as well as in scores upon scores of other beliefs. p. the apostle demanded that they expel them (Gal. .” or “personal taste. If the gospel core consists solely in the death.
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. the preachers and the high profile individuals leading in the call for this current reexamination represent a variety of academic fields.88 1 Cor. without manifesting much sensitivity to issues of genre. burial and resurrection" of Christ. Even the traditional translation “of first importance” does not preclude other items also being “of first importance. and rhetoric.” thus reinforcing the previous emphasis on “I remind you about the gospel I preached. in this verse Paul does explicitly state that he knew “nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor.60 AN ANCHOR THAT WON'T HOLD: ANOTHER LOOK AT 1 COR. This includes a sensitivity to the style and genre of the documents of Scripture. Love. style. Despite this variety.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. occasion. 314. 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. poem. 88 89 E. It is.” 90 . 15:1-4 from its surrounding context. and mean what they say. narrative or Gospel and to the rhetoric and tone of its various parts.89 Yet. by this same simple methodology of merely taking a verse at its face value. 105. therefore. all agree that we should interpret Scriptures with an awareness to insights provided by scholarship. to the specific occasion of an individual letter. The Core Gospel.” Often translations and technical commentaries point out that the Greek prepositional phrase rendered “of first importance” could also be rendered “at first. 15:1-4 The training of the scholars.” As a methodology this is suspiciously similar to the one which affirms that verses simply “say what they mean.
Although parts of church history and Christian literature might lead one to think otherwise. incarnation. and law” (Acts 18:13-15). Becoming a Cross-Shaped People in a Secular World.92 Two points in particular should be kept in mind regarding a contextual handling of 1 Corinthians 15. Abilene: ACU Press. 125-39.91 with no reference to the resurrection in this Pauline summary of the core. 2005. Keck. the simple fact is that in Paul's writings "Christ crucified" is simply not highlighted and put on a pedestal. e. 223-28). it seems improbable that Paul only preached “Christ and him crucified. It would. In an epistle where content and theology are clearly structured around the apostle’s dealing with various problem areas. 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. Reese. 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. First. Abilene:ACU Press. 2:2 and 15:1-4 must be subject to the same inquiries about genre. and rhetoric as employed elsewhere in the NT.” In light of the charges against Paul by the unbelieving Jews at Corinth and Gallio’s response to them about Jewish “words. Nashville:Abingdon Press. pp.” The focus on the cross of Christ is much more popular in Christian hymnody and devotional materials than it is in Paul’s letters.. be a strange situation indeed if only Jesus’ death on the cross was preached by Paul. p. resurrection. Douglas A. 2001. and the Future of Churches of Christ. 92 91 . and Jack R.61 2:2). The Crux of the Matter. during which time he certainly continued to have converts. 2nd ed.g. Leander E. Tradition. of course. pp. “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead. Crisis. The specific occasion is revealed in the wording of 1 Corinthians 15:12. Leonard Allen The Cruciform Church. enthronement. were focused on “teaching them the Word of God.g. 32 observes that the term “cross” does not appear even once in Paul’s letter to the Romans. removed from the cluster of several other theological themes. names. This fact raises some question about Crucicentric (centrality of the cross) theologies (e. Romans. Jeff Childers. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. esp. it is clear that both 1 Cor. 1990. occasion. esp. Foster.
pp. 337-43. 1999).94 In light of these many studies. J. The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 94 93 . The fourth point.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. pp. This reveals that his message was in actuality a four-point gospel and not the three-point gospel that is typically represented.” was central to the gospel of 1 Corinthians 15. often built upon erudite research and advanced methods of investigation. “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology. both in the Greek text and in most English translations. Osborne. and then to the Twelve. Hafemann. Grant R. A contextual handling of Paul's message must include the post-resurrection appearances of Christ. 313-16. 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. Bernd Janowski. 28-32. Second.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. 393-94 and S. how do the authors of The Jesus Proposal so quickly privilege these particular verses in James Barr. 666-79 provide two summaries of proposed methods and proposed solutions to this issue. it is often unnoticed that Paul’s message “of first importance” begins in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and ends in 15:5. 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.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. “Hermeneutics/Interpreting Paul. “Paul and His Interpreters. all of which makes abundant sense in light of the historical circumstances of the letter and the particular issue of chapter 15. the reality of Christ’s appearance “to Peter.” Theology Today 57 (October 2000): 297-324.
then this triad should easily fit into Paul’s presentation of the gospel in other letters. especially when he needed to advocate unity. 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." 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. it could be helpful to look at the various themes. If this proposed “core” provides a simple and obvious strategy for Christian unity. 1:10. burial and resurrection. demonstrates that this understanding of 95 The Jesus Proposal p. 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.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. a letter with the greatest frequency of the term “gospel” (with its cognates) of all of the Pauline letters. 11:18. then what kept Paul from realizing this himself when writing the Corinthian Letters? Why didn't Paul quote the triad of 1 Cor. 21. . If the “true core” of the gospel consists essentially of Jesus’ death. 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 The Jesus Proposal truly "commends itself to thoughtful believers. 12:25). perspectives and reasons that the Apostle himself employs in 1 Corinthians both to combat strife and to promote unity.
faultless.” Galatians. 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. In fact. 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. 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. The NIV Application Commentary. If the definition of the core gospel given in 1 Corinthians 15 does not supply the appropriate meaning for the gospel in Galatians. “as for righteousness based on the law. 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. 3:6. a contorted historical reconstruction of Scot McKnight. For example. pp. burial and resurrection. “Introduction: Legalism Then and Now.64 the “core” from 1 Corinthians 15 is far from adequate. and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you. 19-46.96 much less that they denied Jesus’ death.’” The gospel of Galatians is that the blessings of God given to Abraham are now extended to Gentiles on the basis of faith. but the committee has since rethought the issue. faultless” at Phil. burial and resurrection. It would demand arduous mental gymnastics. New Testament) states. 1:6-9)? There is no indication from Paul that he believes that these Christian "false brothers" are guilty of denying Jesus’ death.” 96 . then where does one find the appropriate meaning? A commitment to historical and exegetical methodology requires that one looks to Galatians. The traditional NIV translation contained the phrase “as for legalistic righteousness. The Today’s New International Version (2002.
That is. slave nor free. 15:1-4 with the gospel used by Paul to address the false teaching among the churches of Galatia. and heirs according to the promise (Gal. Neither of the authors of The Jesus Proposal seems to hold to a view of baptism that resonates . Looking more deeply. for you are all one in Christ Jesus.65 the opponents in Galatia and a fertile imagination to identify the focus of the gospel of 1 Cor. When Paul castigates the Apostle Cephas for “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. If you belong to Christ. Barnabas and other believers is reckoned as hypocrisy because it repudiated the "right hand of fellowship" acknowledged earlier at Jerusalem. either when meeting with the pillars of the church in Jerusalem or when castigating Cephas and others at Antioch. Interpreters have rightly seen unity among believers at Antioch as an issue associated with “table-fellowship” among Christians there. burial. the "separation" or "drawing back" behavior of Peter. 2:12-14). 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. burial and resurrection" to solve this major rupture of unity and fellowship. the Antioch episode mentioned in Galatians 2 is very instructive at this point. It is especially striking that the Apostle Paul did not invoke the “core” of the "death. 3:27-29). 2:14). While focused on the Apostle's letter to the churches of Galatia. do we find scholars suggesting that Peter had doubts about the “death. 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. There is neither Jew nor Greek. then you are Abraham’s seed. male nor female.
pp. 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. resurrection. 88-90 (York). enthronement and return of Christ as well as the significant role played by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. An attempt at unity by the church. were ignorant of or denied the death. Interestingly. pp. even though baptism serves as an crucial component in Paul’s explicit theological reflection about unity. There is no evidence that these Jewish brothers. In addition to the fact that the nascent 97 The Jesus Proposal. 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. whether one looks at Paul’s treatment of baptism and unity in Galatians. 12:13) or Ephesians (Ephesians 4:5). 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. so Luke informs us. . Galatians is but one of many texts that highlights the inadequacies of locating the core gospel narrowly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. We need to be clear about the fact that all the believers at this event. especially for the purposes of discussing unity among believers. 171-75 (Shelly). including those Christians who were card-carrying Pharisees (Acts 15:1-5). burial. Some Jewish believers. were even arguing that Gentile believers were not yet saved because they were not obeying the necessary commands of Scripture. who demanded Gentile Christians’ obedience to the Law of Moses. and apostles culminates in the well-known “Jerusalem Conference” of Acts 15. ascension.97 This probably explains the obvious neglect of baptism in their own proposal for unity.66 with the doctrinal and historical view of the Churches of Christ. already devoutly believed in the truth stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. its elders.
and the Gentile mission of the church. . were certainly in place and available. but it is my conviction that James utilizes Leviticus 17-18 to arrive at the four items. and resurrection” did not. 3.98 The suggested core gospel of the “death. from the meat of strangled animals and 4. 98 . Had the Jerusalem church chosen to invoke Jesus' death.67 church in Jerusalem was "devoted to apostolic teaching. serve as the "framework for maintaining the unity of the Body" at the Jerusalem Conference. These Gentiles had to: 1. burial and resurrection to resolve the debate at hand. . 2. all the participants would have sat there in stunned silence and with blank stares since it goes without saying that everyone. . both Jewish believers Scholars debate this issue. 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. from blood. Since the details of the unity discussion in Acts 15 relate to Jewish acceptance of Gentile brothers and sisters. most of whom are still living" referred to Jewish believers. Next. burial and resurrection of Jesus. realized in Christ’s resurrection and enthronement. from sexual immorality. burial." we ought not forget that Christ's post resurrection appearance to "more than five hundred of the brothers . many of whom were members of the Jerusalem church and some of whom would have been participants in the Jerusalem Conference. the brother of Jesus alludes to the four stipulations for “alien-gentiles” who lived among Jews in the Old Testament. and indeed eyewitnesses. indeed could not. 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. abstain from food polluted by idols. the church decides upon four items necessary for the resolution of this Jew-Gentile division in the churches. Had the leaders at the Jerusalem Conference invoked this theological anchor point proposed by The Jesus Proposal. those convictions. All the brothers seated around the table in Jerusalem already believed in the death.
Since there is no "form letter" to bring about unity and to correct congregational problems and aberrations. but rather that it is too specific. 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. Whether those of an ecumenical persuasion wish to embrace the fact or not. within the Scripture of the New Testament there are no minimalist “core verses. 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. for example. One might as well imagine that the Apostle Paul had one form letter that he distributed to each and every church that he wrote. The seven “ones” of Ephesians 4:4-6. long ago. there is no "form creed" to address every issue of unity among believers. believed these things since “the beginning” (Acts 11:15). nor the brother of Jesus nor Paul and Barnabas broached the “death. but not sufficient for all discussion of unity. It is not as though the list is defective. had already.68 and Gentile believers. that are sufficient for any and all discussions of unity. Is there anything to be learned from the fact that neither the Twelve. 99 .” no seven point creeds. The seven "ones" of Ephesians 4:4-6 are necessary. 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. 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.
' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone.' 'The question is. Beyond the above-mentioned difficulties with finding any one simple text or doctrine to remedy all issues of unity and fellowship. 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things. p.69 Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutics 'When I use a word. Humpty Dumpty. 148. 'it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less. associated with its own “theological anchor point. pp. . The Jesus Proposal.'100 This well known exchange between Humpty Dumpty and Alice encapsulates a profound issue related to biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. there is the equally troublesome issue of the meaning of words and the correct interpretation of texts of Scripture. that not even all believers agree on the meaning of many of the words and phrases expressed in this “theological anchor point.' said Alice.”101 It rejects two of these immediately as characteristic of the American Restoration Movement and prefers a third.”102 One of the more perplexing points about this choice of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is the fact. The Jesus Proposal.” 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. certainly known by the authors of The Jesus Proposal.” Going back to the hermeneutics of Humpty. 148-49. 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 sets forth three possible approaches to Christian unity and defining “the Church of Christ.
For Christians seeking a framework for unity today. Notwithstanding the attractive “family values” of the Latter Day Saints. the inability of Abbott and Costello to communicate did not arise from the fact that they spoke different languages. this skit would bear an amazing resemblance to the famous Abbott and Costello skit.” A similar situation exists with those of Mormon faith.”103 In the clear light of day.org. 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. What.” the “Bible Cores.” but similarly I do not want to be unwittingly exploited by ad hominem rhetorical phrases such as “Bible-believers. but from the fact that they used words in the same language whose meanings were capable of diverse meanings. one must ask “Which Bible?” The phrase “according to the Scriptures” is very significant to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. write a humorous skit depicting a discussion of these verses by preachers and theologians from various theological perspectives. “Who’s on First?” Unlike those at the Tower of Babel. after the shadows of rhetoric have vanished.” 103 . almost everyone else in Christendom regards their theology as heretical and cultic. Based. for example. however. Since.70 them to mean—neither more nor less. upon the perspectives stated at www. Anyone aware of the subtle nuances associated with hermeneutics and Christian systematic theology could. the goals of vaudeville skits are not the same as the goals of one “who correctly handles the word of truth.” there is not much constructive in evasive theological language or an obfuscated and confused discussion of the gospel. however. 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. are we to understand by the rhetorically charged phrase “Biblebelieving fellowship?” I am certainly not against “Bible-believers. the Latter Day Saints would certainly regard themselves as a “Bible-believing fellowship.” the “Omega Code. If the right denominations were present. with a little imagination. however.mormon.
that they might be delivered from their sin [of idolatry]. 10:32-39. see also http://www. Internet. Accordingly. and 2 Esdras into the Scriptures of the Catholic Church. 12:50. . Mark 3:35.crcna. Equally difficult to overlook is the absolute incompatibility of the different views regarding the seemingly simple statement of the gospel. accessed 23 February 2007. the anchor point of The Jesus Proposal could lead us to embrace the 16th century Council of Trent convened by Pope Paul III. for example. . 18:4-5. While these few words are a mantra in evangelical churches. looking beneath the surface shows how confused and conflicted the interpretation of these few words is in the Christian world.” I cannot imagine how a non-Catholic could protest since this ubiquitous Catholic practice arises from their “Biblebelieving” hermeneutic.71 “Protestant” Bible? Without further comment or restrictions.org/pages/dort_canons_main. The Council of Trent clearly incorporated those Deuterocanonical books such as Tobit.”104 That is. the "whoever" verses (Matt.cfm. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor.org/Trinity_Belief. Consequently. 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. those of us who use the “Protestant” Scriptures could not fault “Bible-believing Catholics” for advocating. including “Limited Atonement” see http://www.htm for a Presbyterian affirmation of the same doctrine. Since Roman Catholics can cite “chapter and verse” from 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 for the doctrine and practice of “praying for the dead . 15:3). 104 .tpcopelika. Sirach. 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). 16:25. John The Christian Reformed Church has traditionally affirmed the canons of Dort. 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. the doctrine of Purgatory.
"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. 10:9) are viewed very differently by Calvinists and non-Calvinists. 36. From my perspective. those predestined by God.72 3:16. before the creation of the world to be saved from the world. again according to Calvinists. who will. The possibility of apostasy and “falling from grace” have always been part of both the faith and practice of the Churches of Christ. 15:2 such as “you are saved. but only those who are among the elect. Consequently the LIP portion of the debate about TULIP is inextricably woven into even these . according to Calvinists. Phrases from 1 Cor. since the saints will always persevere. providing the “L” in the five point Calvinistic acronym TULIP. A final point reveals another reason why 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is a poor choice of verses. What they truly mean. since he has already chosen them. 1:23. 7:38. since in the judgment of Calvinists. as is the "our sins" of 1 Cor. Paul’s statement teaches that salvation can be lost. In the classic Calvinistic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:3 the term “our” does not encompass the sins of all humankind. Thus. but only for the predestined saints. 15. if all Bible-believing Christians are to meaningfully understand their “common faith” (Titus 1:4). 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. verses like 1 John 2:2. is that God’s atoning work in Christ’s death was not for everyone in the world. there cannot be any conditionality to salvation. Christ’s atonement is “Limited”. the “P” of TULIP. This would violate the “Perseverance of the Saints”. be irresistibly (the “I” of TULIP) drawn to God’s grace from the world. Col. Consequently. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. if you hold firmly to the word” (cf.
” the “extent of the atonement. The grass roots manifestation of this doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints” is the “once saved. thereby breaking with the historically held views of the Stone-Campbell Movement.106 a clarity which includes an intelligible and coherent sharing of faith and practice. 106 . Even if one regards the significant differences with Calvinism as irrelevant for unity.” and the “security of salvation.105 As I understand the nature and purposes of the church described in Scripture. it would be very difficult to carry on what is often called the “work of the church. IL: Intervarsity Press. If in these four brief verses of 1 Corinthians 15 believers do not have a shared understanding about significant concepts such as the “Scripture. always saved” did not derive from Calvinism. A cogent case can still be made for the clarity of Scripture. even among those who do not usually hold to the other four points of Calvinism.” both in faith and practice. Thompson. always saved” belief that abounds in the evangelical world. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture. It is questionable whether this clarity of Scripture could be associated with this “theological anchor 105 Some historians note that “once saved. New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove.73 few verses. but in grass roots Evangelicalism that is now closely associated with Calvinism. The authors of The Jesus Proposal regard “the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism” (TULIP) as doctrinally irrelevant for discussions of unity. possess a coherent view of God and his work in Christ. 2006). if its self-understanding as well as its message to the outside world was so confused on these particular doctrines of atonement and perseverance." as though I myself am the final arbiter of God's word. 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.” how could believers. not to mention unbelievers. Mark D.
or Christ. 15:1-4 can simultaneously mean so many contradictory things and bear the weight of so many personal interpretations.” especially if the readers are interpreting from lexicons as diverse as Calvinist and nonCalvinist. then the unity and outreach that Jesus prayed for (John 17:17-23) will diminish for lack of a truthful word. All too often “Jesus alone” perspectives eventuate to the place where theological substance is replaced by pious feelings and slogans. the mighty acts of God surpass our human understanding. the understanding of salvation and sanctification is so diverse within the evangelical.74 point. 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. Yet. but God's gracious actions neither bypass our understanding (Eph. or the Lord Jesus. 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. .” concluding then that this should remove all barriers to unity. Catholic and Protestant. That is. 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. if these verses in 1 Cor. or the Son of God. 1:15-19) nor negate the resources of our God-given minds and their capacity to understand his revelation. at Presbyterian and Baptist churches today are to ‘speak the same thing’ about the One who saves and sanctifies. . typically accompanied by a very selective use of the words of Jesus. “The people of God . then what is the value and need of referring to these verses at all? A focus on a "Jesus alone" hermeneutic is equally inadequate. the authors of The Jesus Proposal state. Even though these slogans of "Jesus alone" are often connected with reverential references to Jesus. To be sure. it seems to me that Jesus himself was not overly .
31. does not alter this point." The apostles proclaimed both Jesus and the Kingdom of God. “Satan. Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. but the things of men” (16:23). 28:23. and he made his displeasure at this abundantly and painfully clear when he called his closest friend Peter. about God. but by my Father in heaven” (16:17) is followed by the words. 14:22.” then why should the modern followers of Christ lower the bar on this type of issue. Furthermore.75 impressed by slogans and titles in and of themselves.” void of their correct meaning. you do not have in mind the things of God. about the coming kingdom and the about the Law of Moses. Jesus drove a stake through the heart of that kind of rhetorical Christology once for all at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. cf. 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. the major author of the New Testament. “Blessed are you. If Jesus spoke to the apostles about the kingdom for "forty days" (Acts 1). Since "preaching Jesus alone" was not a regular part of the The account of this story in Matthew’s Gospel. then I imagine there was substantive content and doctrines of the faith being given them. for this was not revealed to you by man. 107 . though worded differently. 16) when the Apostles he was mentoring tossed around terms like “Christ” and “Son of God. to mention a few doctrines of faith that needed to have improved understanding.107 If Jesus Christ himself was not pleased with Christ “rhetoric. 1:3). “Get behind me. 19:8. Even Jesus’ words. In fact. Christ was not particularly satisfied with the “Christ” rhetoric at that point.” for not grasping the correct substantive understanding of this term. Simon son of Jonah. and Luke certainly did not regard Jesus and the Kingdom as synonyms (Acts 8:12. why does Luke. 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.
once discovered. Burkitt. Albert Schweitzer. Finally. looks astonishingly just like us. a "Jesus alone" spirituality and theology fails to reflect the breadth of the biblical text and should be unacceptable. trans. 108 . Montgomery (London: A & C Black. Initially it provides hope and excitement when viewed from a distance. The Question of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. all "Jesus alone" theology continues under a dark cloud of suspicion. with a preface by F. this quest for and hope of the “Jesus alone” perspective usually turns out to be a mere mirage. 2d English ed. For believers committed to having their theology shaped by the Word. W.108 This recurring idolatry of creating Jesus in our own image is found in both liberal and conservative. quite predictably. often turns into the sand of our own personal and denominational needs and appetites.76 apostolic preaching of Acts. As others have noted. 1931). but upon closer inspection the disappointing and painful truth is always revealed.. C. both modern and postmodern and both traditional and iconoclastic interpretations of the Christian faith. a “Jesus” created in our own image. The 20th century missionary and theologian Albert Schweitzer taught us that far too often the Jesus we look for. Jesus himself preached the “Kingdom of God” prior to his proclamation of his own death and resurrection. The original mirage.
many heinous sins and atrocities committed in the name of Christ by churches. work toward and pray that unbelievers would not shun Christianity solely because of the bad behavior of Christians. 2:24). Each of us.g. either individually or collectively. 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. is it justifiable to hold the non Christian. devastated by the Blitzkrieg of . while we ourselves refuse to do the same. even egregious errors. There is an important lesson that European history can teach us about responding judiciously to errors. we still hope unbelievers will be attracted to God’s truth and to enter a relationship with him. the authors’ pain and deep scars from their participation in Churches of Christ are evident in The Jesus Proposal. It may be a quirk of history or the brevity of the American Restoration Movement rather than any indication of a virtuous temperament. Along with the Apostle Paul. Sexism. shares responsibility in moving beyond our own past. committed by our predecessors. e.. WIKIALITY AND GOD'S CONGREGATION Spiritual and doctrinal abuse is as real and nefarious as any other form of abuse. If we hope and expect the nonbeliever to look beyond the sins of the church. the Inquisition. Notwithstanding the many. Nevertheless. the Crusades. Nationalism and Genocide. Racism. All Christian denominations have skeletons in their ecclesiastical closets. but not ourselves. we hope.77 AUTOBIOGRAPHY. most believers realize that God's name is blasphemed among unbelievers because of the hypocrisy of the saints (Rom. anger and frustration. As already noted. in spite of the depth of pain. but the Churches of Christ have fewer skeletons in their closet than many other groups. At the onset of World War II both eastern and western Europe lay in shambles.
lest “all that we have known and cared for.78 the Third Reich. “Of this I am quite sure.” On the basis of these perspectives and his awareness of the urgent mission thrust upon England Churchill stated. .”109 109 The Jesus Proposal. This new Prime Minister realized. 1940. 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. 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. On June 18. Churchill realized the necessity of defeating Hitler. Winston Churchill spoke before the British House of Commons.” In light of the number of negatively painted vignettes. 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 Prime Minister had a profound awareness of the urgent mandate put upon Britain by destiny. it comes as no surprise that the authors acknowledge that they “have devoted a great deal of our adult lives . getting over some early bad experiences of church.” A free Europe and indeed a free world were possibly on the verge of extinction. . will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age.” In my judgment The Jesus Proposal threatens the future by its acerbic and unrelenting magnification of the “quarrel between the past and the present. 62. we shall find that we have lost the future. . however. that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present. and that there was plenty of blame and guilt to go around for allowing the ascendancy of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The previous British government had been deceived by Herr Hitler. 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. p.
Consequently. 3:21)."111 In light of An apparent portmanteau of “wikipedia” and “reality.” the term “wikiality” was coined by the political satirist Stephan Colbert on a segment of The Colbert Report. in my experience.79 Notwithstanding these “bad experiences of church. Even though these faces were formerly in the majority. In light of God's eternal work. represent a minority in Churches of Christ. with all their successes and failures. reactions and counter-proposals are sometimes being directed at what now amounts to a caricature of the contemporary Churches of Christ. 2006. 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. He defines the term as “A reality where.” 111 110 The leadership of the Richland Hills Church of Christ has provided as brief . which aired on July 31. 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. if enough people agree with a notion. Finally. are any of our congregations.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. including his glorification in Christ and in the church (Eph. 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. are a mere drop in the bucket to God when compared to his wisdom. The authors of The Jesus Proposal provide unassailable proof by their own lives that much has changed in the past generation. his plans and his truth. then I am relatively sure that our subjective intuitions. they now. are any of us. it becomes the truth.” we must beware of surrendering to a type of spiritual wikiality. 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. When the largest Church of Christ provides a Saturday evening worship in lieu of Sunday.
Internet.” Christian Chronicle 64 (January 2007): 3.80 this and many similar situations. 8.org/index.rhchurch. “Nation’s Largest Congregation Adding Instrumental Service. I am rather confident that for the most part we are not still stuck in the 1950s doctrinal outlook of the Churches of Christ. .cfm?pg=news&id=26. see also Bobby Ross Jr. accessed 02 March 2007. statement concerning the introduction of a Saturday evening instrumental worship at http://www.
the Churches of Christ of our grandparents no longer exists. In this period . buttressed by intramural publications. Accordingly. saw the death of the patriarchs. 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. 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. some are more democratic while others are more hierarchical. at least not as a brotherhood. and a major shift in the focus of religious education. the decline of influential publications in Churches of Christ. 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. passed down through debates and gospel meetings. sustained by minimal formal religious education.81 A LOOK AROUND THE CORNER Clearly. resolutely guided on the basis of its religious doctrines. when the patriarchs died their mantles were not passed on to others. The details of the governance of American denominations vary. This current generation. and nurtured by patriarchal figures. One of the positive results from this is a renewed vision and practice of congregational autonomy. which means that reexamination can and should begin to take place within the context of the family of God. like it or not. however. its creeds. its faith and its practices. the loss of interest in debates and gospel meetings. In earlier generations Churches of Christ steered its ship with a firm hand. Furthermore. Most church groups recognize the impact of culture(s) upon their particular denomination. a task God gives to each and every congregation and generation.
he assumes that all is well and the captain is at the helm. with no recognizable captain at the helm. In the interim some have jumped ship into the billows below. but since there has not yet been an obvious mutiny. In a period when it is not clear who is at the helm. 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. teachers and scholars. 112 . I think it is better. Special interest groups continue to struggle to make their way to the helm in hopes of steering the Churches of Christ. about the reexamination of older perspectives. when the “average Christian” is informed and educated about the changes in the pilothouse.82 of recent history. while still others have found rowboats and skiffs and sailed off into the sunset. God has called them to play a very crucial role in the direction and development of the church. There are several possible attitudes that could be held toward the person in the pew by those desiring to be at the helm. or even who should be. the stereotypical “person in the pew” may not be aware of all that has transpired. including internal controversies. the scholars and teachers of the church are accountable to God first and second their fellow believers. One could believe that "ignorance is bliss" for the person in the pew. In this setting of a fellowship of autonomous congregations. 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. an awareness of this diffusion of new perspectives is crucial for the rank and file of members. however. Beyond the leadership of individual congregations. and about fruitful dialogue taking place among the church’s leaders.112 The “average member” may have some sense that the seas are rougher and the ride more jolting than usual. Accordingly.
Can issues of unity be biblically discussed without serious consideration given to the “imitation of God” as an essential . 4:14). Churches of Christ will be especially vulnerable if they are seduced into the belief that teaching and doctrine have become basically irrelevant.83 clearly responsible to the aggregate membership of Churches of Christ for their ministry. my brothers. congregations and denominations who encounter a spiritual “perfect storm. This task will be hampered and crippled if these fellow Christians are all “tossed back and forth by the waves. 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. This will clearly call upon all believers. hopefully based upon Scripture. it is imperative that these deliberations and commitments must encompass decisions about the lifestyle of Christians. affluence. which doctrines must be privileged in the Christian walk and in discussions of unity. pluralism and every wind of teaching. As church history so painfully demonstrates through poignant examples. catastrophic shipwreck awaits individual women and men. as they are faithful to Scripture. and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). so that their lives might bring glory and honor to their Creator. Not only will congregational leaders need to decide. Equally important. 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.” resulting from apathy. congregations and their leaders to decide which issues should be regarded as central in the theological deliberations and commitments of Churches of Christ.
sound words and doctrines include ethical issues (e. 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. the fruit of this kind of scholarship clearly needs to have greater impact on our developing Scripture-based theology. God’s people have a sad. even though it has surfaced in the 21st century. 1 Tim. appears to be directly out of the playbook of the 1950s. 12:1-3. On occasion I am asked what I think of the “worship wars. 1:10.. both to keep the church acceptable to God (Rom. 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. Our own penetration into the deeper aspects of Scripture. not necessarily meaning devotional .” this internecine fight that divides congregations and is fueled by dogmatic preferences for either traditional or contemporary worship. of placing too much emphasis on how one worships to the neglect of how one behaves in life. As one who believes that the Restoration Plea is compatible with conservative biblical scholarship. whether it comes from the lips of someone who is progressive or someone who is conservative.84 component of the life of a genuine community of faith? As even a quick look at the Pastoral Epistles shows. sad track record. Issues of purity and sanctification must regain their biblical prominence alongside issues of justification. dating back a few millennia. In my personal judgment it is not necessary for Churches of Christ to come forth with a radically new reconceived.g. 7). That whole mentality. 15:16) and to define and retain the required integrity of the church’s life and fellowship. 6:3). My personal prognosis is not very optimistic. remixed and repackaged Restoration Plea.
simply because it no longer fits? Any attempt to be biblical requires a commitment to the globalization of God’s message. is still in its beginning stages. It seems to me that if we are going to continue the Restoration Plea. We must ask questions about how the Body of Christ is to present itself to the world. 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. served God’s purpose in our own generation (Acts 13:36).85 aspects. will be dealing with in the next decade. notwithstanding the detours erected by human rebellion. 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. 113 . nevertheless. about the church's calling. like David. its mission and the foundation for its mission and message. has the mandate to live in such a way that later generations will say that we. including North America. connecting afresh with the deep wells of God's eternal truth. or should some of this be left behind. and during the American Restoration. during the Protestant Reformation. will come to fruition in ways that are often inscrutable and unpredictable to us mortals. A laudable post Reformation slogan "The church has been reformed and must always be reformed according to the Word of God (ecclesia reformata.113 There is every reason to believe. a Restoration Movement (rather than a Restoration Monument) has every hope for a vibrant existence. With a firm commitment to nurturing indigenous Christian communities based upon Scripture and Biblical theology. None of us can truly imagine the questions and issues that churches throughout the world. semper reformanda secundum verbum dei)” captures the vision that the term Reformation (as Campbell called the movement) or Restoration denotes. among others. There is much more that needs to be done. for example. including the one of unity. that God’s goals. we need to revisit Scripture with questions. Each of us.
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