Grace Conversation: A Progress Report

April 13, 2009

Today I want to give an update on the proceedings of the Grace Conversation between conservatives and progressives in churches of Christ. The stated purpose of this effort is to conduct “a conversation regarding the disagreements that separate the conservative and progressive branches of the churches of Christ.” I previously blogged in anticipation of this conversation.

To date there have been seven articles posted addressing the topic of the conversation (as well as a few other posts with more of an administrative focus.)

Phil Sanders opened the conversation with a broad survey of the conservative position, attempting to prove the proposition that “The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that doctrinal error can lead to eternal damnation.” Phil cited numerous scriptures in support of that proposition. As it turns out, that proposition as stated is not in dispute between the two sides. Chalk up one point of agreement! Of course the differences arise in the specific instances where that principle is applied.

Todd Deaver responded with an article raising the question, “Are All Doctrinal Errors Fatal?” He acknowledged that doctrinal error can lead to condemnation. But he challenged the view that every doctrinal error leads to condemation, since that would mean perfection is required in order to be saved. Once again, there seems to be agreement on this point at a high level, although when we descend into details the differences emerge.

Gregory Tidwell followed with an article resisting the request for a clear statement of what errors lead to condemnation, on the grounds that living by such a checklist is no more satisfactory in a relationship with God than it would be in a marriage. He also made the point that “sincerity does not change error into truth.”

Greg followed that article with another post arguing that the question “Are all doctrinal errors fatal?” is too broad. In the article he stated that while all doctrinal error has the potential to condemn, not all doctrinal error actually condemns.

Jay Guin entered the discussion with an article attempting to define the question more narrowly. He seeks a discussion of which doctrinal errors would cost a person his salvation “even if the Christian commits the error after prayerful study of God’s word, honestly believing that he is acting in accordance with God’s will.” Jay proposed several reasons why a person might validly need the answer to that question. In Jay’s view, the question is not about finding the minimum requirements to meet in order to be saved, but to know how to make a variety of decisions about relationships inside and outside the church. Jay pressed for a scriptural answer from the conservatives supporting their standard for drawing lines of fellowship.

Gregory Tidwell responded with an article challenging the progressives for becoming legalists by asking for a definition of which doctrinal errors condemn. He argued for a “relational accountability” to seek and to follow God’s will, rather than a legalistic set of rules or principles. He presumes that seeking such a list implies a permissive attitude that does not strive for perfect obedience. Instead of demanding a clear rule for determining what doctrinal errors lead to condemnation, he called us to use “sanctified common sense.”

Jay responded citing numerous examples from Greg’s past writings where he identified certain doctrinal errors as constituting apostasy. Jay challenged Greg to show from the scriptures that these doctrinal errors cause one to be sent to hell. Jay asks, “Why this list?” He pleads, “I don’t want a list of damning errors. I just want to know how I can tell – from the Bible – whether the lists being taught as God’s truth in our brotherhood publications are true. It’s a fair and very necessary question.”

So, as you can see, a lively yet respectful dialog has begun among the four participants. But in addition there has been lively discussion in the comments from readers of the conversation.

At this early stage of the discussion, it is evident that progressives are pressing for a clear statement of how conservatives determine which doctrinal errors condemn, and conservatives are strongly resisting making such a statement.

Please drop by the ongoing conversation, and read the articles for yourself. And feel free to participate in the comments!

One comment

  1. I was born and raised Church of Christ and believe that love is the center of everything we do. I see it clearly in Romans 13:8-10; 1 Cor. 13:1-8a; Gal 5:22-23; 1 John and on and on. Jesus prayer in John 17 makes it clear that we should strive for unity and peace. I strongly believe that this young generation and the other generations will not see the things that divide such as music, and what others call dividing issues as dividing issues. It is for this generation and the ones that we are bringing up that grace is the key and love is the center. Love is core doctrine. We do nothing without a heart of love and grace. I think it is wonderful that we can see unity in the future between the Church of Christ and the Christian Church

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