Saturday, December 08, 2007

The List

For some twenty years I have been hearing about "the list." This is a list of instructions that "ChurchofChristers" made up to distinguish the saved from the lost. Progressives claim that this list is really a basis for self-righteousness and meritorious salvation.

Now, I suppose there are some misguided brethren who think they can save themselves by their own doing. On my part, I know that I need saving. I need the grace of God. Most members of the church understand that. But those who are always hollering about the list are not interested in being fair. They find the most hard-headed legalist among us and pretend we are all that way. They love to invent a stereotype and criticize their imagined persona.

I have to admit I have never seen this list. In my thinking it has all the credibility of "Quelle," the supposed document of the higher critics. They made up "Q," and some brothers have invented the "list." Both make good propaganda. It is easier to defeat an invented list than it is to deal with the commandments of the Scripture.

What we have read is the Scripture. Jesus intends to be obeyed when He speaks. The way to love Him is to obey Him--He said so. This is not auto-soterism (self-salavation); this is love. We are to observe and to teach others to observe everything He commanded. Some don't like us saying that, but we didn't. Jesus said that (Matt. 28:20).

When we say that, some respond with the accusation that we make every commandment have the same level of necessity, that we flatten out our understanding of Scripture. No, we realize some matters are weightier than others--Jesus said so. But Jesus also said those who would relax or annul or breaks one of the least of the commandments will be the least in the kingdom.

We have no desire to make lists, but we do not wish to ignore anything the Lord teaches. We have no preconceived notions that by keeping commandments alone we can save ourselves from the wrath to come. No, no. We need the blood, and we obey because we love.

I think it sad that some in order to excuse their self-made religion have to resort to imaginary lists and impugning motives. They must point the finger at others in order to take notice off of their own self-made righteousness.


I ask, "What commandment of God can a person refuse to obey or willingly disobey and still please God?"


Kathy said...

I haven't commented on your last few posts, but I have appreciated them very much. Your points are very clear and easy to understand.

Joel said...

"What we have read is the Scripture. Jesus intends to be obeyed when He speaks. The way to love Him is to obey Him--He said so. This is not auto-soterism (self-salavation); this is love. We are to observe and to teach others to observe everything He commanded. Some don't like us saying that, but we didn't. Jesus said that (Matt. 28:20)."

Good point Phil. Doing this, by it's very definition, can't be self-righteousness, as many often accuse us of practicing, because it's not based upon our own whims or wishes of what we want(which I would define as righteousness based upon self, hence true self-righteousness) but seeks to do God's will in our lives.


Rick said...

Amen Phil,

This is where most liberals will not go. Their entire mentality is based upon the fact that there is a core doctrine that cannot be broken but all others are free to do as we see fit.

Again thanks for the article.

Matthew said...

I love the "Q" reference. Good stuff. I really want to eat with you too, the next time I am up in Nashville to visit the hospitals, I will give you a ring.

Darin L. Hamm said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Keith Brenton said...

But ... how do you know when something is a commandment if it's not stated as such in scripture? Why do we see virtually everything there as a commandment?

For instance: James says, "Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise."

I've heard and read people teaching that is a commandment that deals with gathered worship, even though it's conditional (upon happiness), phrased as "let him," and has no context of gathered worship.

Phil Sanders said...

How can we know something is a commandment? Well, this is a good question. I don't always use the word commandment in dealing with many matters, because it is more limited than the word instruction. We are taught what to do by imperatives ("Let him sing songs of praise" is an imperative dealing with one's everyday life. I have never used it to describe what is to be done in gathered worship. I do find that what we do in private singing is consistent with what we do in gathered worship--sing.)

Mark 16:16 and John 3:5 do not contain imperatives, but they do contain vital information describing those who are saved and enter the kingdom and what is necessary to do so. So instructions sometimes come in a grammatical form different than imperatives.

We do not have to have the words: "this is a commandment" to know that something is such. We know when we have been told to do something or told not to do something.

To say that I see everything as a commandment is absurd and unfair. To say that I understand the Bible to teach us how we are to behave, think, believe, and love Him and others is far more accurate.

Whether the matter is small or large in our eyes, each instruction teaches us what God desires. Love is faithful in little things.


onedaysoon said...

I have never seen a printed "list". I doubt the existence of such a "list". Yet, I will not argue that there is an unwritten code or creed among churches of Christ concerning what is acceptable and what is not. If one does not agree to that which is accepted by the majority of the brotherhood they are listed as liberal, unfaithful, not sound, off the deep end, etc. Often the determining factor of one's faithfulness is not based on Scripture but is based on whether we hold the official view or not. We may not have a written list but we certainly have an unwritten creed.

Phil Sanders said...

Dear onedaysoon,

Most preachers I know hold a little different view on some subject, but I haven't found them blacklisted or falsely accused.

We are in the midst of a cultural and spiritual war of ideologies in the church today. When people espouse things that are widely variant from the clear teaching of God's word, they are unsound or unhealthy.

I am hesitant to accept your unwritten creed theory, though I have heard it offered for several years. I hesitate because congregations and people differ. Frankly, some individual decides something is wrong, and defensive people decide the whole church feels that way.

Let me give you an example. I have heard us condemned for the unwritten creed of "three songs and a prayer." I don't know of any congregation that would part fellowship over "three songs and a prayer." You might find some ol' bonehead, but the rest of us are better than that. So let's be fair and not make the declarations of an individual or small group into an unwritten creed the whole church adheres to.


Jim said...

Phil, I believe the answer to your question at then end of your post is most certainly none. However, I believe another question is more important than the one you have asked:

What commandments of God can a person obey that will result in justification and righteousness? The answer is none. That was Paul's whole point in Galatians. As a matter of fact, Paul warned that if people tried to justify themselves by obedience to the law, they would fall from grace. He went on to say that the only thing that counts for anything is faith working through love.

So, in essence, disobeying God's commandments will certainly not justify you, but there are not enough commandments in the world that you can obey that will make you pleasing to God if you do not totally trust your justification and righteousness to Jesus. Righteousness is imputed to us through faith -- it is not something we qualify for once we have obeyed enough commandments.

Phil Sanders said...

Thank you for your post. It is certainly true that no one merits his salvation, and we cannot justify ourselves by ourselves. We are all dependent upon the grace of God.

The Scriptures speak of disqualifying ourselves as Christians from salvation by a lack of faith, a lack of zeal, and by disobedience. There are many conditional statements in Scripture like 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 "if we hold fast, lest we believed in vain." or 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 or 1 Corinthians 10:12. We must take heed lest we fall. Hebrews 5:8-9 actually means something.

So while I agree that we cannot earn salvation, I also recognize we can lose our salvation if we lack faith or teach/practice the wrong things (Gal. 5:1-4).


onedaysoon said...

Phil you can choose to refuse to accept the unwritten creed thory if you wish. Your choice doesn't change the fact that there is an unwritten creed in eastern churches of Christ. It is not necessarily a creed from Scripture. It is rather a creed held as doctrine formed through the years by various individuals. Thank God we do have choices as to whether we will abide by the creed or not.

Phil Sanders said...

Dear one day soon,

I prefer to speak about some brethren, since I realize that brethren differ. I feel it is unfair to label those of us who live in the Eastern half of the US. I have deep roots on both sides of the Mississippi River and know many churches well.

I think you have stereotyped.


Keith Brenton said...

I think "the list" is written - not in scripture as such - but it can be pretty well inferred from pp. 425-6 of Behold the Pattern by Goebel Music: "But I often have made this challenge, it is only in the New Testament church, the Church of Christ, that a person can believe and practice all these things at the same time. I know of no other group where you can believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, understand the complete difference in the Old and New Testaments (law, rules and regulations), worship in song without mechanical instruments of music, commune upon the first day of every week, practice baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, an immersion into Christ for the remission of sins, be organized by the scriptural government as the New Testament has outlined, have the scriptural name for both the church and the members, having Christ as the only head (no earthly hierarchy or headquarters except in heaven), teaching the relation of the church to the world, being benevolent and evangelistic, etc., etc. As I said before, some may practice one, two or more, but only in The Church of The New Testament, The Church of Christ, can you believe and practice all of the pattern at the same time!"

He makes it pretty clear that anyone who deviates from this list is disobedient to God and therefore lost.

I think this is probably "the list" you've been hearing about for the past twenty years or so.

Phil Sanders said...


Goebel Music is a fine man, but like Lipscomb and Campbell our brother has no holes in his hands. He is not the Lord, and I doubt if all of our brethren have ever read his book. The charge was that all the brethren have given allegiance to this creed.

The question for me is what does the Bible teach? If the Word of God teaches immersion, weekly communion, singing, and proper organization, then this is God's teaching. Who are we to set it aside. Only the Scriptures have authority; and if Goebel points to the Scriptures, then God bless him. If you, Keith, point to the Scriptures, God bless you.

But if, as so many progressives do, a brother points to man-made religion, then I will not pray God bless that practice. It is false and presumptuous.

The Scriptures are authoritative, and nothing else.


Frank Bellizzi said...

About Keith's quote from "Behold the Pattern" and "the list." I don't know how many people have read that book. I do know that thousands of copies have been printed, and it seems as though it's had a wide circulation among members of the Churches of Christ.

Be that as it may, that "Behold" can't be "the list" because not all of our people have read it misses the point, I think. Most people in Churches of Christ, pro or con, easily recognize the ideas found in the quote precisely because it reflects an implicit list that we have been exposed to over and over again.

Illiterate Jews of the ancient world still recognized and could recite the Shema. Almost to the same extent, members of Churches of Christ may not have read "Behold," but it most certainly reflects what they have heard many times. In that way, the passage quoted by Keith certainly is "the list."

On a related note, keep in mind that for some people "Q" isn't a written document, but rather an oral tradition.

Phil Sanders said...

I appreciate your comments, but churches of Christ are fiercely independent in many matters. While we may be united on several key issues, I don't you will find all the congregations agreeing on this list.

Many congregations have serious diversity within the ranks of its members, and we are seeing more and more people who have no idea what the Scriptures teach on important issues.

"Q" may have some origin in oral tradition, but studies of form and redaction criticism necessarily turn it into written form.


Frank Bellizzi said...

Phil, thanks for your response.

About uniformity and diversity among Churches of Christ: I do think within this fellowship there once was (and largely still is) a broad, strong, and expected doctrinal consensus on a wide range of questions, some big, some small. I think that this has been what folks have referred to as "the list." Most long-time members of Churches of Christ would know the expected reply to dozens of questions that have been important to us, even if that person had reservations or disagreed.

Frankly, I don't think that any distinctive and vibrant religious group can do without its list. Tertullian spoke of the regual fidei, that rule of faith which was the guide for making calls about doctrinal questions.

There can be no question that, especially over the last 30 years or so, the doctrinal consensus which used to characterize Churches of Christ has begun to erode and fragment. I think the numeric standstill of this group can be attributed to a failure to answer the question, If not this, then what? This makes members of our fellowship (myself included) feel like fish out of water. The old seems old, and tired, and ineffective, intelligible to only those who know about things from the inside. On the other hand, we have wholesale borrowing and appropriation of everyone else's tradition but our own. Churches of Christ and Lent? Since when? Last year? "Read your Bible and pray everyday" was just too familiar it seems.

About Q: I realize that most folks have thought of it as a document (that has not a shred of manuscript evidence). My thought was that, if Q might reflect an oral tradition, so might the list. Unwritten, but nonetheless there.