Archive for the ‘Grace Conversation’ Category

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Grace Conversation ends

August 9, 2009

Mac Deaver and Phil Sanders have withdrawn from the conversation between progressives and conservatives at graceconversation.com. Earlier, Greg Tidwell withdrew from the conversation. With the withdrawal of all of those representing the conservative side of the question, the conversation has now come to an end.

The stated goal of the conversation was to discuss “the disagreements that separate the conservative and progressive branches of the churches of Christ.” The primary two topics that they set out to discuss include whether all doctrinal error leads to damnation (and if not, which do and which do not); and the proper effect of doctrinal error on the boundaries of fellowship.

I have followed this conversation with great interest. I appreciate the willingness and the efforts of all of the five participants to participate in the discussion to the extent that they did. Of course it is unfortunate that some of the men felt it necessary to stop the conversation, especially since the second topic was never addressed. However, I think things went far enough to draw a few conclusions.

1) There is great interest in this topic. A significant community of readers participated in lively discussions in the comments. The range of views in the comments went farther in both extremes than the actual five principle conversation participants. While the comment threads ranged far and wide, and emotions sometimes showed, the commentors added life to the conversation.

2) Neither side persuaded the other. To some that may seem to have been a foregone conclusion, but I hoped for more.

3) Both conservatives and progressives agreed that certain doctrinal errors lead to apostasy. They also agreed that not every instance of doctrinal error leads to apostasy. However, the conservatives were persistently unwilling to state exactly which scenarios lead to apostasy, nor exactly how they determine whom to fellowship and whom not to fellowship. Progressives kept asking the question in various ways but it seemed to be an unanswerable question.

It was interesting to observe how difficult communication was between these two groups. They use the same words but mean different things. They read the same passages but come to entirely different conclusions from them. I think there must be a fundamental set of basic assumptions on which the two groups have radical differences, which lead them to read the scriptures differently. It is unfortunate that this discussion did not discover and illuminate these basic assumptions. Instead, the conversation was on a different level, focusing on the different conclusions they hold due to those different foundational assumptions.

There is a danger in staking out your beliefs publicly. Once you have done that, it becomes much more difficult to change them. Maybe conversations like this have a better chance of success if the principle participants have not previously tied their reputation publicly to one side of the question.

I believe God will resolve this disagreement at some point. I don’t know whether it will be in short time or long, whether in this life or the next. But I am confident that God cares about this question, and he wants us to understand.

Jesus prayed that the church would be one so that the world will believe. The importance of the world believing cannot be overstated. What a tragedy that, as of today, we are not one, and therefore the world does not believe. I am sure that God cares more about that than he does about many of the points on which conservatives and progressives disagree. May God help us to stop straining out gnats and swallowing camels.

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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!