Facing Our Failure

January 10, 2009

The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ

A few days ago Jay Guin posted about an intriguing new book titled Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ. I googled the book and read a few reviews from both sides of the question, and then contacted Todd Deaver to purchase a copy. My copy arrived yesterday, and I read it last night. (The book is self-published. I ordered my copy by contacting Todd at ptdeaver@yahoo.com. Apparently I received one of the last copies, and he is currently ordering a new batch. I also noticed that there is an ebay offering of the book.).

Todd Deaver was raised in the conservative churches of Christ, the son and grandson of well-known preachers. He received his B.A. in Bible and Philosophy and his Master’s degree in New Testament from that conservative school.

He began thinking about the question of fellowship while a student at Freed Hardeman. A curious paradox confronted him. His church of Christ heritage drew some very distinct lines of fellowship over certain doctrinal topics that were considered essential. But that same heritage accepted diversity of views on a surprising number of other doctrinal topics. Todd wondered what the guiding principle was, which led to embracing precisely this group of believers, and excluding all others. Todd writes:

I graduated, continued several years in fulltime ministry, and still assumed that the elusive key to the fellowship dilemma would present itself to me eventually. I didn’t know how, but I was convinced there had to be some way to justify our decisions about which disagreements can be tolerated in our fellowship and which ones can’t. I simply hadn’t found it yet.

Five years ago I stopped looking.

The result of those subsequent five years is a compelling book documenting rampant inconsistencies in the teaching and practice of fellowship within conservative churches of Christ. The book documents a wide array of topics on which the conservative wing of churches of Christ differ with one another. The book is filled with footnotes quoting a plethora of well-known conservative church of Christ preachers contradicting one another on numerous topics — most notably, on how to determine whom can be fellowshiped and whom cannot. Yet the brothers he quoted, in most if not all cases, never broke fellowship with others who disagreed with them on these topics.

It is widely taught in conservative churches that any deviation from the true and accurate doctrine of the scriptures is fatal — that is, it breaks fellowship with God, and therefore it must break fellowship with the church. They even hold that failure to break fellowship in those cases is itself grounds for being put out of fellowship with the church. However, Todd proves beyond question that the practice of these churches does not match their rhetoric. They extend fellowship to others who disagree on many topics. Todd identifies nineteen different aspects of the fellowship question alone, on which they differ. Yet they do not break fellowship over those differences. They do not follow the principles they teach on this subject.

So, what principles do they follow? Do they simply follow their own personal preferences in deciding which disagreements block fellowship? When they draw these lines of fellowship, are they following the teachings of men, or of God? In the absence of a clear biblical principle that can be consistently applied, I can only conclude that they are following their own human preferences and opinions. It seems they rule others as saved or lost based on what feels right to them.

Todd chose not to lay out a solution to the fellowship dilemma in this book. His reasoning was that if he were to propose a solution, that solution would divert all the attention away from the problem he set out to expose. Instead, he hopes that the book will convince people that the current doctrine and practice of these churches on the issue of fellowship is internally inconsistent and untenable. He has left the door open to the possibility that he will follow up with another book advocating a solution. I hope he does.

I have blogged often on this subject. We are called to unity in the faith. We are commanded not to pass judgment over disputable matters. We are taught that we are sons of God through faith, because we were all baptized into Christ and clothed with Christ. And if we are all sons of God, then we are all brothers, and should embrace one another as brothers. God extends grace, and so should we.

I believe church of Christ hermeneutics are the root of the dilemma that Todd describes. We are entirely too confident in human ability to infer the will of God on every subject. We have fancied ourselves as detectives with skills rivaling Sherlock Holmes himself. Instead we should practice doctrinal humility. With the judgment we use, we will be judged. If we demand that our brother agree with us on every topic in order to be accepted into fellowship, then we had better be absolutely perfectly right on every topic ourselves. I doubt any of us is.

I appreciate Todd “sticking his neck out” and writing this much-needed book. As one who longs for the Christian unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17, I recommend this book and the subsequent discussion to all in conservative churches of Christ. May we all humbly seek God’s will in this important matter!

Todd has started a blog and is currently discussing the book.


  1. Excellent idea for a book. The thought actually crossed my mind today that I should try out (just to be friendly) attending a service at Church of Christ down the street (its closer to my home by about a half mile than my favorite church I have been attending for about 10 years). But I thought then, what would they think of me? Would they even consider me a sister because I am part of an unofficial icoc? Would they feel the need to convert me the moment I walked in? I remember thinking when the lid got blown off about 5 years ago, that we would finally get to be on friendly terms with the conservative churches. But I haven’t seen it happen yet, to my knowledge. Has either side officially held out an olive branch?

  2. One of my daughters is a member of a former ICOC congregation, but she and her husband attend evening services every week at a mainline church of Christ. They’ve been invited over to dinner with one of the elders, and have a great relationship with them. I think they are even included on the roll at both congregations. My other daughter is a member of a mainline church of Christ. I’ve visited Sunday evening services there several times, and have been invited to lead singing on more than one occasion. They love us and we love them. I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case at every church of Christ but don’t just assume it won’t be.

  3. Todd Deaver has been headed for liberalism for quite sometime. His father, brother Mac Deaver, is hoping and praying for Todd’s repentance. Brother Mac is currently writing a book to refute Todd’s errors. A wealthy businessman down near Dallas has placed $100,000.00 on the table to assist Mac. I am thankful that brother Mac has this amount of courage to stand against his own son. Doesn’t the Bible warn us about these false teachers, like Todd, who lead people astray? I have also heard that TBC is writing a doctrinal review of Todd’s book. Brother duke is heading this up.FrankDenton, Tx

  4. Frank, have you read Todd’s book? Your ad hominem arguments don’t begin to address the issues he raised. Maybe it’s not Todd who needs to repent on these issues. Rich friends don’t necessarily mean one is right.

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