In this letter I want to call your attention to two recent writings that caught my attention and make some comments relative to them. One is a “Guest Editorial” that appeared in the January, 2011, “Old Paths Advocate” and the other is a recently published booklet.
1.) Faith Delivered Once For All – By: Joe Norton
Bro. Norton’s premise in this editorial is that the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” is under attack by brethren, (I presume he would not consider them in his fellowship, but brethren-in-error, digressives, etc.) who are challenging some of “our” traditional interpretations and practices. He makes several significant mistakes in his assertions relative to this premise. Let’s notice some of them.
a.) These brethren, of which I include myself, are not attacking “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” as per Jude 3. They are challenging interpretations of the new covenant scriptures written to those in “the faith” which are opinions or reasoned views which the apostle Paul refers to as “matters of faith” in Romans14:23. They are not the same thing and br. Norton confuses the two. One is a basis of fellowship (“the faith”) and the other is not. Bro. Norton and others want to make the new covenant scriptures “the faith” and certain specific interpretations of them (“matters of faith”) law and the basis of fellowship with God and the one cup party. Later in his editorial he accuses those of whom he is writing of coming up with “a new gospel”, but that is not true. Instead it is he who falls “under Paul’s condemnation” in Galatians by adding “matters of faith” as conditions of salvation to “the faith” which is the very thing the Judaizers were wanting to do.
b.) Bro. Norton indicates that if we do not interpret the Bible correctly we will be lost and he chides the “concept that human reasoning is prone to err”. There are several problems here. Certainly it behooves us all to use whatever ability and resources we have to correctly understand the scriptures, but we are not saved by a correct understanding of scripture. That is legalism, works salvation, self-salvation. We are saved by grace through faith. Who will say they know it all correctly and does not err or has not erred. The first Christians didn’t even have the new covenant scriptures. For centuries most people didn’t even have a copy of the scriptures, and many couldn’t even read.
c.) Personally I think the new covenant scriptures contain commands and examples and at times we need to infer, but we have abused what is called the CENI hermeneutic. We have confused our interpretations with the facts, demanding conformity of others to our opinions and not treating those who disagreed with dignity and respect. The CENI approach has been the basis of prooftexting and the ignoring of context and related aspects of interpretation. Remember this! There is no god-given hermeneutic. Also, the new covenant scriptures are not the new covenant, and further they are not a legal code.
d.) Bro. Norton indicates that the silence of the scriptures is prohibitive and if we don’t recognize this, “the sky is the limit” as to what we can do. The silence of the scriptures is neither permissive nor prohibitive, but neutral, and no brother in Christ with whom I am acquainted sees the silence of the scriptures as free license. On the other hand no brother in Christ who I know who asserts that the silence of the scriptures is prohibitive is consistent in its application, not even bro. Norton.
e.) Bro. Norton indicates that we should not take culture into consideration when interpreting the scriptures. Does he practice the holy kiss? Would he tell an enslaved person today to return to his master? Would he be in favor of the communism of the early saints in Jerusalem? Bro. Norton doesn’t apply all portions of scripture to his life today, nor does he apply all of them in the same way the apostolic writers intended them to be applied by the original readers.
Brethren, we have been given the Bible by God because He loves us. It is meant to enhance our lives as brethren in Christ. It is not to be abused and used as a wedge to divide us. Neither it, nor our knowledge of it, is our Savior. Jesus Christ is our Savior. Let’s not be puffed up by so-called knowledge, but let love prevail.
2.) What’s Wrong With The Irving Church??? – By: George Battey
This is a booklet in which bro. Battey says contains 35 “irrefutable” points of unfaithfulness by the one cup Irving, Texas church of Christ. That one would advertise his views as being “irrefutable” is a warning sign that raises suspicion about the attitude and thinking of a person. It is not my intention in this brief letter to specifically contest or respond to bro. Battey on the 35 issues he raises, but to give my general impressions of what he contends in the booklet. The Irving congregation does not need me to answer for them or defend them. If they feel the need to respond specifically to bro. Battey they have brethren who are much more capable and knowledgeable about these issues than me.
By the way though, bro. Battey implicates me in the booklet, referring to a letter I wrote in March, 2008. Interestingly, when I heard about this booklet and sent bro. Battey the two dollars to purchase one as stated in the advertisement I had seen, he would not sell me a copy. I found that strange. Anyway, let me share my impressions.
a.) An Attempt To Control And Limit
I see the booklet as another attempt by the “Old Paths Advocate” party leaders to control and limit the liberty and freedom for which Christ “has made us free.” Now they will deny this, but the Publisher, Assistant Publisher, and five of the eight on the Editorial Staff have endorsed the booklet in writing. Another on the Editorial Staff, along with numerous “OPA” contributors and supporters have allegedly written “the leaders of the Irving congregation in an effort to bring about repentance.” Nuff said!
That what he writes is simplistic is evidenced by his assertion that what he says is “irrefutable” as if there is no other side to any of the issues. Is bro. Battey absolutely all-knowing and correctly knowledgeable relative to the scriptures and these matters? Is his hermeneutic God-given? That must be the case if he is “irrefutable”.
Where he is particularly simplistic is in his quoting and application of scriptures. Frequently her misapplies, proof-texts, and twists scriptures. Some of them could be applied to him the same way he applies them to the Irving brethren.
c.) “The Faith” and “Matters of Faith”
Here bro. Battey makes the same mistake as bro. Norton. He confuses “the faith” and “matters of faith”. The brethren at Irving have not denied “the faith” as far as I know. They hold to the head Christ and seem to be actively and sincerely trying to manifest the spirit of Christ rather than a cold, staid legalism.
Years ago I wrote a “California Letter” in which I listed 68 issues over which there was disagreement in the “one cup” Churches of Christ. Today I know of more that could be added to that list. If brethren were consistent in making “matters of faith” tests of fellowship nobody would be in fellowship with any other believers. The point is that “matters of faith” are not to be make tests of fellowship and brethren who coerce and threaten in various ways, demanding conformity to their views are divisive.
I note in the tenor of bro. Battey’s booklet a lack of compassion for others. I saw this in his criticism of a woman signing for the deaf and particularly in his “Social-Gospel-Issues” section. As if individuals are not the church, he is critical of a group of Christians congregationally feeding the hungry, helping those financially strapped, and providing other help and needful services. It’s the old story, we can’t take money out of the treasury to help a hungry person who is not one of us because it is the “Lord’s money”, but we step outside the building and give them money because then it isn’t the church doing it or the Lord’s money. Where is the authorization to use the “Lord’s money” to purchase a building, incorporate, buy song books, etc.? How does bro. Battey know doing some of the things for which he derides the Irving congregation will not be instrumental in the salvation of others? His lack of compassion is further illustrated in accusing the Irving brethren of devising “wicked plans” and chiding them for showing “mutual respect” to other believers that do not conform to the Church of Christ mold. Did the apostle Paul show “mutual respect” when he took a Nazirite vow with four others and even paid for their expenses?
At a time when Richard Dawkins is influencing millions toward atheism, and secularism is prevailing in our society, and terrorism is said to be a result of Islamaphobia on the part of conservative Christians, the “OPA” party is focused on what is happening with the “one cup” Church of Christ I Irving, Texas. Yet the brethren at that place have not denied “the faith”, they are not accused of moral turpitude and despite accusations of being divisive, I get the impression that rather than they being heretics, it is their accusers who are manifesting the party spirit. They are judging another’s servants in areas there we have been told not to judge one another.
J. James Albert