The idea of something being thought-provoking has an air of seriousness about it and maybe even a touch of boldness or daring. At least that’s how I see what I am about to write (Ha!) and I hope it will produce some cogitation on your part. On the other hand I expect my critics will dismiss what I say as being thoughtless and reckless which has been their usual reaction over the years. Anyway, my intention is to be thoughtful.
I think most of you will agree with me that we live in a society and time where there is not a lot of accountability and people being held duly responsible for their actions and behavior. I could cite hundreds of examples, but let me relate just two or three blatant examples.
Not too long ago a judge in New Hampshire did not sentence a child molester to prison because he said prison would not rehabilitate him. He’s probably right about the rehabilitation, but is that an acceptable excuse for not giving a prison sentence in these kinds of cases? I think not.
This last football season somebody changed the grade of a top-notch athlete from an “F” to an “A” so he could compete. The teacher stated that the student had missed 66 of 90 classes and didn’t even take the Final. So the District investigated at a cost of $50,000, and by the time the investigation was completed the football season was about over and they still didn’t know for sure who changed the grade. Is that being accountable and responsible? I think not.
Just recently what I call a “bleeding heart” article appeared in my daily newspaper. It said that the impounding and cost of retrieving an automobile for driving without a license, driving with a suspended license, or drunken driving was too costly and harsh for the offenders. (California has a law that the cost of impounding and retrieving cannot exceed the cost to the authorities.) Did this article encourage accountability and responsibility? Especially in the light of the fact that a week before in the same city of the newspaper a little girl was hit and killed by a drunken driver. I think not. It was a slap in the face, both to the police and law-abiding citizens.
More and more we find criminals and immoral persons seeking to excuse their crimes and sins by saying that their behavior is genetic-based and beyond their control. Some use the excuse of their environment or upbringing. Jimmy Fallen once said, “Sometimes I wish I had a terrible childhood, so that at least I’d have an excuse.” Incompetence is frequently excused by saying, “I have/had too much to do.” To be shamed or share shame is considered a grave sin instead of being an accountable consequence of sinning.
We live in a society and time in which we have been taught or trained to be defensive and to offer all kinds of excuses for our errors, irresponsibility, mistakes, sins, and unaccountability. As I thought about how we are excuse-prone (myself definitely included) I thought about how we excuse our divisions, especially in the Churches of Christ. Most of them are inexcusable, but as an old Yiddish proverb says, “If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.”
Just consider briefly some of the excuses (means and ways) we use to justify our divisions. We blame our brethren. We call them names like brethren-in-error, digressives, false teachers, heretics, liberals, modernists, progressives, and worse. Does this show a spirit sincerely intent upon ending our divisions? I think not.
We proof text and twist scriptures to allegedly give justification to our unscriptural actions. Scriptures like Amos 3:3, Romans 16:17-18, 1Corinthians 1:10, Ephesians 5:11, and 1 John 9-11. Didn’t Jesus say, “Do not think that I come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”? To set brother against brother as we have done. I think not.
In connection with our prooftexting and twisting of the scriptures we accuse our “brethren-in-error” of not respecting the authority of the scriptures. Is our prooftexting and twisting of them showing respect for their authority? I think not.
Over the years we have prided ourselves on the slogan: “We speak where the scriptures speak and we are silent where the scriptures are silent?” Have we done that? I think not. We have erroneously and inconsistently applied this slogan as to the intent and meaning of its use by our spiritual forefathers. We have used it to debar brethren by making laws of our interpretations/opinions relative to matters where the Bible is silent or not specific. Is this in keeping with the slogan? I think not.
We have demonstrated an inconsistent and self-righteous intolerance. We deny the concept of “unity in diversity”, yet we practice it. Will any brother out there claim to be in 100% agreement with His Maker and his brethren? I think not. We have selectively picked “disputable matters” relative to our identity as a party and demand conformity to this unwritten creed. We are right and we are not going to walk “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We (our exclusive fellowship) are the “one body”. I think not.
It is my perception that we are too accepting, casual, and excusing of our divisions. We have grown up with them and grown used to them. They don’t make us groan in agony and pain and motivate us to change the status quo. We have lost sight of the damage done to souls, both saved and unsaved, by our divisions. The cost cannot be measured. Some of this may be coming to light by what is happening in our world. There is a growing backlash against Christians and Christianity, and a lot of this disrepute I think is due to our divisions and concomitant behavior. Had we been, or were we more united, we would have been, and would be more influential.
A year ago this month a number of concerned brethren from several states and of varied opinions met in Las Vegas to discuss some issues related to unity, especially as they relate to the one cup, no Sunday school segment of God’s fellowship. Part of the forum was to discuss some questions posed by each participant beforehand. There were 46 questions submitted. Needless to say, we didn’t get to discuss them all.
Prior to the meeting I had answered all of them in my preparation for the occasion. Beginning with this month’s California Letter I am going to share my answer to one of the questions with you and will continue to do from time to time, Lord willing.
I had told those brethren present I was going to publish my answers and tell my readers that they were all in agreement with my answers. Ha! You know better than that. Anyway, you can read my answers for what they are worth and please don’t be too critical.
J. James Albert
1.) Why is the teaching of grace limited to conformity to the Church of Christ way?
To be facetious, the Church of Christ thinks it is “the way”. The real answer is rather obvious though.
The one cup Church of Christ, and other segments of the Churches of Christ, have existed in the main as legalistic, sectarian bodies which view the New Covenant scriptures as a written code with which one must comply to achieve, earn, or merit salvation and stay in good standing with that segment which constitutes the only true Christians who will be saved. In reality, one must comply with or conform to select interpretations or the written creed of the party.
The emphasis is upon salvation by works rather than being saved by grace through faith. The emphasis is upon what we must do to save ourselves rather than thanking God and trusting Jesus. The bottom line is that the teaching of grace is a threat to the party spirit. It destroys or undermines the legalism that demands conformity to the unwritten creed that defines the party and used by leaders to control the party. The teaching of grace causes party leaders to fear for their control. It is easier to control slaves to an alleged legal code than free persons in Christ to cite an analogy used by the apostle Paul in Galatians.
I have no doubt that many sincere leaders, and many, many, sincere rank-and-file members of the Churches of Christ are ignorantly caught up in this legalistic system of conformity. With a lot like me, this is all we heard from our youth up. Nevertheless, this is no excuse for the attitudes and actions and reactions, especially of many party leaders toward those who have learned differently and see that salvation is a gracious gift of God and not conformity to the Church of Christ.