Friday, August 03, 2007

What Does Grace Cover? or How Much "Bad" Doctrine Does Grace Cover?

I currently attend Otter Creek Church of Christ, a "liberal/progressive/whatever" Church of Christ, which on the left to right scale of Churches of Christ, puts us way out on the left, but on the left to right scale of churches in general, puts us way out there on the right. It's an interesting dichotomy. One supposedly defining characteristics of these "liberal/progressive/whatever" Churches of Christ is that they have more emphasis on Grace than the "conservative/traditional/whatever" Churches of Christ. In fact, one person once thought that OC focused too much on grace and decided to leave.

One of the major tenants of the Churches of Christ is that there is a specific way to believe about God and faith. That revelation is given through the Bible and there is a specific way to interpret the Bible. If you don't interpret it the same way as the Churches of Christ do, then you're either being deliberately obtuse, you're mentally deficient, or you just haven't been taught in the right way.

Now, on one hand, that seems rather extreme, but in all honesty, it's the way that a lot of Christians believe. There are certain things that you have to believe in order to be a Christian and then to be saved from the everlasting sulfuric fires of Hell. Of course, we could debate what it means to be saved and how that plays out, but that's not what this post is about.

What I am wondering is this: How much bad belief does Grace cover? Is there a minimum that someone must believe in order to be considered a Christian and therefore saved? And if you don't believe that minimum of "orthodox" belief, does Grace cover that? Or does Grace only cover specifically repented-for sins of commission and omission? I'm really looking forward to hearing ideas on this.


Kat Coble said...

Wow. That's a good, and loaded, question.

I have to say that I, in general, more and more tend to err on the side of Grace.

I believe that God is bigger than all of us. That doctrine is a way He gives us to understand God as best we can.

But I don't think we should be slaves to doctrine--especially doctrines which attempt to force banality on Mystery.

In other words, I think things like Baptism and Communion are Mystery Rituals which cannot be fully encompassed by man's interpretation of doctrine.

However, I think there are a few fundamentals which are to be acknowledged:

--Jesus is God in human form
--Jesus both died and rose again as payment for our sins.

Beyond that, I guess I'm more and more content to let God take care of God and not let committees of men decide to speak wholly on God's behalf.

Justin said...

This is the kinda stuff that pushes me more and more towards universalism, that the salvation of which Jesus speaks is a salvation from the principalities and powers and a salvation from fear, and that when the Kingdom comes in full, all the dead will rise and repent and bow down at the throne of God.

But I'm kinda a heretic, so what do I know.

Thomas+ said...

The bar is really low. Call upon Jesus, that's pretty much it. There are tons of people with bad, bad behavior and theology who will be saved by the grace of Christ because they have called upon him.

Bad theology and bad behavior are repugnant to God, and we are answerable for our bad behavior, and teachers for the bad theology they teach. But salvation, bottom line "get into heaven" kind of salvation is an open door in Christ.

"He who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:13

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Romans 10:9

'What must I do to be saved?' And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your and whole house.' Acts 16:30-31 (I like the communal nature of this last one

jettybetty said...

I just don't think anyone can have *perfect* theology. So, if I claim God's grace for my imperfect theology--how could I not expect Him to have grace for yours?

Of course, I want to know your answer, too!

Jonathan said...

I've got no clear answer.

It kind of takes me back to faith v. works. In contrast to the verses Thomas quoted, ones like Matt. 7:21, Matt. 25:31-46, etc. seem to indicate that there is more to it than simply calling on Jesus. What does it mean to do God's will? Of course, whatever it means, no one does it perfectly. How can I tell if I'm someone who does God's will or not?

I guess I would emphasize that, as imperfect as I am, I personally strive to live consistent with my understanding of God's will in everything and that I'm only able to be in relationship with him by grace. Though it may be useful to have dialog when my understanding of God's will differs from yours, I certainly won't condemn (as if I'm in the business of condemnation) anyone who sincerely seeks God and his will.

Matthew 7:21 (NIV)

21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Phil said...

My response... hmmm.

OK, here's a couple of things.

1) I think most Christians are in agreement that grace when you become a Christian covers everything. Period.

2) I think that most Christians believe that if you are a Christian and believe incorrect doctrine, and repent of that, grace covers that.

The hard question is in this vein. Let's say you're a member of the church of Christ. And you have a friend that's a Baptist. Church of Christ theology declares that the Baptist would go to Hell if he or she died because Grace does not cover his or her "incorrect" doctrine.

My assumption is that we all have incorrect doctrine, whether collectively as denominations (or anti denominations), and that individually we have incorrect doctrine as well. Do I believe that God's grace covers incorrect doctrine? I certainly hope so.

Now the follow up question would have to be, what's the minimum you need to believe to have access to that grace? Is it less than, greater than, or equal to what Thomas+ put forth?

jim voorhies said...

Builders say that drywall covers a multitude of sins. Grace, to me, is like that. I'm totally with Thomas, principally because of the statements in Romans and Acts that he quotes, but also because of personal experience. My parents were of polarly opposite Christian faiths, Church of Christ and Roman Catholic. Both firmly believed in their faiths but both also as firmly believed that doctrinal differences did not matter to God. "On this rock I will build My church" did not specify doctrines or specific faiths, but rather a belief in one God and in His Son, who died for our sins.

Brian Littlefield said...

Basically, I think Paul covered it in Hebrews 6. The foundations of our faith are:
-repentance from sin
-faith in God
-laying on of hands
-resurrection of the dead
-eternal judgement

People who believe ONLY the Bible on those points have a firm foundation. Everyone else is following a different faith. And grace doesn't cover that. It covers us when we stumble off the narrow road (momentarily, continually), but not when we're on a different road altogether.

Kat: Paul had a different idea about being a slave to doctrine. I Tim 4:16 tells us to watch our life and doctrine closely, and that the peril of not doing so is not being saved

Phil said...

So, Brian, I take it that you're saying that you disagree with everyone above you? Or rather that everyone above you disagrees with the Bible?

Brian Littlefield said...

Oh, I didn't read the other replies in any detail, and didn't write my response based on them.

I'll ask you this, though: when it comes down to matters of faith and doctrine, does popular opinion really matter, or is God's opinion all that really matters?

Phil said...

Brian, are the two mutually exclusive?

And I would guess that your answer to my question in the post would be, "No. Grace does not cover bad doctrine believed by Christians," which would ultimately make them non-Christians. Am I stating your position correctly?

Tiffany said...

In real life, where the rubber meets the road, who am I to deny God's grace (and therefore my own) to anyone, no matter what they believe or what they've done?

And I don't believe that God calls us to offer more forgiveness than He will extend.

I believe that God can, and will, redeem the entire world.

(Let the C of C verbal stoning begin.)

Brian Littlefield said...

Phil, the answer to your first question is:
human opinion may reflect God's sovereignty, character and purposes, but God does not adjust his ultimate will based on human opinion or shifting societal viewpoints. Additionally, human opinion may reflect something that is in total opposition to God, and it is possible to see that every minute of every day in the world around us.
For instance, just because the majority of "Christianity" has shifted to believing that a simple prayer can save you, that doesn't mean that the Lord adjusted His original rules (faith, repentance, participation in the cross and resurrection through baptism, living a godly life thereafter) on the matter.
In short, the only portion human opinion that matters is that which overlaps the will of God, and that is learned through reading and living His Word. That is how godly wisdom comes about. Remember, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

And, yes, I would say that if someone doesn't have their life and doctrine on straight, they're not really a Christian. Take Ann Holmes Redding (the Episcopal Priest from Washington), for example. She believes she's both a Muslim and a Christian. And they are definitely mutually exclusive. If she were to proclaim such things in the Middle East, she would probably put her life in danger. Now, I will definitely say that I believe the nature of the Episcopal church allows her to believe this, but that doesn't mean that the Lord allows it. I'm fairly certain that the Lord abhors someone like this who is neither hot nor cold. In fact, I remember reading about it somewhere important.

I think a comment relevant to this that I posted on one of your other posts either got lost in time or overtly ignored: would you regard Mormons as brothers and sisters in Christ? If you look at some of their core beliefs, they're right in line with the Bible. But are they Christians?

Brian Littlefield said...

Tiffany, you may think that the Lord is okay with you believing that He will save everyone, but that's not what He says in His word. Obviously, some human being has led you to believe that over the years. But who should you believe: God or man?

Phil said...

Brian, from my judgment, I would say no on the Mormons. What I know of their beliefs does not line up with orthodox Christianity.

Which would naturally lead me to a question for you... do you regard someone who attends a Church of Christ that uses instruments for worship, but not on a Sunday morning to be a brother or sister in Christ? Why or why not?

Tiffany said...

It's "whom", not "who".

I don't have the patience to argue with you over the rest of it. I hope you're a lot more joyful and peaceful in real life. Otherwise, I shudder to think how many people you've driven away from Christ with your hatred.

Brian Littlefield said...

There you go. "From [your] judgment..." Your return comments to me have seemed to have overtones or implications that I'm being judgmental when I have no right or cause to be. Yet, you do so yourself.

I don't believe Mormons are Christians, either. And I know why I believe that. But the basic tenets of their religion are nearly identical to those of the Churches of Christ. And the object(s) of their faith are the same, as well: Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. Where they differ is in beliefs about the resurrection and afterlife (and their place in Heaven), and that is one of the core things that the author of Hebrews addresses as a foundational understanding.

To answer your question, I don't think twice about using instruments in worship. Anywhere. The Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever, and psalmists used to praise Him with harps, lyres and other instruments in the OT, so it's still valid now. I do think that he wants every person to praise Him from their own heart, so I tend to frown on "performance" worship where it seems more like a concert than a crowd participation event. But I also tend to frown on "traditional" services where people sing a cappella (or with an organ/piano or whatever floats their boat) and their hearts never connect to the words being vainly mouthed.

Phil said...

Brian, I've not accused you of being judgmental because we all are. And I've never claimed that I'm not because I know I am.

And btw, you and I agree on the instrumental issue, but as I'm sure you're aware, there are fellow members of the Church of Christ who would look at both of us and call us apostates? Do you think they believe that God's grace will cover us for our "sinful" belief? Do you think that God's grace will cover their "adding to the Gospel"?

Brian Littlefield said...

Tiffany, you don't have to resort to nitpicking to say you don't like me. Since usage of who/whom depends on the intended object of the sentence, "who" seemed more appropriate, since the sentence could not comfortably be re-arranged to inquire "You should believe whom: man or God?" And, technically speaking, beginning a sentence with a conjunction is a no-no. But I do it all the time.

Brian Littlefield said...

Phil, the people that I know believe in totally a cappella worship have a laundry list of other things that are wrong with their beliefs. Many of them, I fear, will hear some bad news on the last day. When I first became a Christian, I heard other folks (in the Churches of Christ) say they feared that because of the legalism, the Churches of Christ epitomized the references to either the church at Ephesus or the church at Laodicea addressed in Revelation.

Just for reference, I do believe that non-instrumental CoCers are adding to the Bible. But they're doing so because they pick and choose what's convenient for them. Most of them also do not believe in tithing. They don't have a strong grasp of the Bible, because they don't read it themselves, on their own time. Their prayers sound patterned, and often tailored to the ears of their earthly hearers, and not to the One who can answer them. They deny the active, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and somehow believe that they can be godly men(women) of their own accord, just because they've heard the rules.

I believe that the Lord's grace will cover people who know the truth (and try to live by it) about faith in God, repentance, baptism, resurrection, and eternal life. But, sadly, that doesn't include as many people today as I think it did just 50 years ago.

Should we really be talking about testing the limits of grace, seeing just how close to the edge of the path we can come and not fall off (fall away), or should we be talking about how much more spiritual refining we can and should be doing and allowing the Lord to effect in us, and encouraging others to stay on the straight and narrow?

Phil said...

Brian, I can completely understand where you're coming from in your last paragraph. However, to me, that seems like "safe faith." A faith that isn't inclined to take chances. This idea of seeing how close we come to the edge is one that has an interesting context, because it does seem to place a limit on grace.

Are there limits to grace? Maybe, but I don't know that I'm willing to live a life of faith that way. I'd rather live with the idea that grace can cover anything. How it will, I'm not sure. But I'll place my trust in the Lord.

Keith Brenton said...

Hm... would it be arrogance to say that I'm so doggone special that Jesus' blood is insufficient to cover my understanding of doctrine?

Is grace all that's necessary for salvation? Is faith in that grace all that's necessary? Are works all that's required? Or is it necessary to put that faith into action so our faith can be part of working out our own salvation in this life and the next?

Is peanut butter the only ingredient required for a PB&J? Or just jelly? Or just bread?

I ask too many questions.

Brian Littlefield said...

Phil, it occurs to me that we might have a difference in perspective, because my references encompass not only CoC, but pretty much every denomination in Christendom (and beyond). The things I've seen in "non-denominational" churches have given me points of reference for issues discussed in the Bible that other people who are only exposed to CoC doctrine may never see.

For example, my little brother has never been taught that repentance is necessary for salvation. He flat-out doesn't know it. But he believes he's been saved, because (probably countless times) he's said "The Sinner's Prayer". The times I've heard people make reference to repentance in conversations around him, it's been akin to a "spiritual discipline" - good ideology, but not absolutely necessary for salvation. In contrast, it was the very heart of Jesus' message. Does grace cover such a lack of knowledge or understanding? I can say, unequivocally: no.

That's just one example out of pretty much countless references.

If "safe faith" means that there are some things that you believe that are absolutely required in order to follow God, to be a Christian, then I believe that's exactly what you'll find in the Bible. If it also requires that you always cover all the bases in foundations before a person comes to Christ (and is baptized), and daily reassurances of those foundations throughout their time on this earth, so that they may actually be able to stand strong in their faith through the trials that will inevitably come, then I'll play it safe every time.

Now, I will say that I believe the Lord still leads us and shows us directions He wants us to go in life (to accomplish specific things according to His purposes), and requires us to take some very unsafe leaps of faith. In that respect, I hope to be the most unsafe person I know.

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