Testing the Gospel Among Us.

Nothing like a video announcement of a Church of Christ taking on a female preaching intern to stir up the waters. The video was available here but has been made private. In sum, the Fourth Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, Tennessee has recognized the gifting and talents for preaching that God is developing in Lipscomb University student Lauren King. By doing so, the Fourth Avenue Church is provided Ms. King an opportunity to further develop her calling under the mentoring of Senior Minister Patrick Mead.

The Bigger Issue…

In case you’re wondering and for the sake of putting my own cards on the table, I applaud the opportunity that the Fourth Avenue Church is giving to this young preacher-in-training. If you are interested in my reasons for such applause, you can read my post titled “Neither Male Nor Female (Part 4)” which will also provide you with links to parts 1-3. What I am interested in is how churches and Christians respond to such news which I think has a lot more to say about whether we truly understand the gospel of Jesus Christ than whether we agree or disagree with the decision made by the Fourth Avenue Church.

If you’ve read this far then you’re probably familiar with the subsequent conversation that has taken place. As expected, some of the conversation is necessary and helpful but certainly some of the conversation has been unnecessary and the least bit helpful. For an example, just read this post and the comments that follow on Brotherhood News which is but one example of the divisive comments I have read.

It matters not whether we agree or disagree with the decision of the Fourth Avenue church. When our response to a decision that other churches and Christians make descends into divisive accusations, we may justify it all we want under the guise of pursuing sound doctrine but in the end it shows a failure of the gospel at work among us. That is to say, the bigger issue here is about whether or not we truly grasp the gospel of Jesus Christ. The decision made by the Fourth Avenue Church has simply provided an occasion for testing how well the Churches of Christ are embodying the gospel.

Among the Corinthian Church…

Here is what I mean… Take the Corinthian church in scripture as an example. That was a church where division was but one of several significant problems. The Corinthian Christians were allowing baptism to divide them (1 Cor 1:10-17) and the divisive spirit among them play out in several ways but perhaps none bigger than among their worship gatherings. That is why chapters 11-14 of First Corinthians are addressing matters pertaining to the corporate worship.

Part of Paul’s strategy was to remind the Corinthians of the Lord’s Supper they eat together as a church. This meal, which takes place by the invitation of Jesus at his table, is the church’s way of continued participation in the gospel story which has reconciled both Jew and Gentile as one unified body in Christ. Because it is the continued participation in the gospel story, when Christian act divisively towards each other they show their failure in grasping the gospel itself.

But wait a minute… what about when a church or Christian does something that we believe is a violation of biblical teaching? After all, that is what the subsequent conversation about the Fourth Avenue Church’s decision is about. Those who disagree with the decision believe that this church is violating biblical teaching. So should those who disagree not voice their concern?

Of course, they should. There’s nothing wrong with voicing disagreement. But when that disagreement turns towards inflammatory accusations that slander fellow Christians and churches, that voice becomes divisive and here is why. For all the disagreements that existed among the Christians in Corinth, Paul never once tells them that they must agree with one another. Unity is not uniformity! Instead, in one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, chapter 13, Paul points the church back to the practice of love. Then he goes on to instruct them by saying, “Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts…” (1 Cor 14:1).

Think about it. As Christians, we may be right on any number of different issues but if we don’t love those with whom we disagree then we are wrong. Unity is loving even those we disagree with. It’s that simple. And that includes how we speak towards each other and what we do with our knowledge (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-3).

So In Closing…

As Christians, we are free to disagree but we are not free to use our disagreement as an occasion for maligning other Christians, churches, and Christian organizations that differ from us. Until we learn how to season our responses on controversial matters with love, we show our own failure in grasping the gospel of Jesus Christ. So it appears past due we reconsider what it means to speak and fathom knowledge with love. Further more, for those who still think that the Fourth Avenue Church is wrong… so be it. But remember, for all the problems that the Corinthian church had, Paul still thought of them and addressed them as the church!

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14 responses to “Testing the Gospel Among Us.

  1. I read the vitriol on brotherhoodnews.com and commented though my comments may be deleted. I asked “why the hate?” and “why the vitriol?”. This is not unity. However, I have seen one cofC condemn to hell a fellow congregation down the road for having a kitchen. This is not a major disagreement over the existence of G-d.

  2. Follow-up. My comments were deleted as expected. Any Dissenting opinion is off limits.

  3. It is the same group who labels anyone who wants to merely discuss the old policies a liberal change-agent, which translates to “child of hell.”

  4. Hey guys, you’re absolutely right… When dissenting opinions are off limits and can’t even be discussed, it is truly a sign of deep weakness and immaturity on the part of the one refusing to discuss them… such as Patrick Mead who reportedly outright refuses to discuss this with anybody who disagrees with him, even de-friending and blocking them on Facebook because he can niether biblically defend his views, nor tolerate any views to the contrary… Hmmmm….Will this disenting opinion be allowed here :)?

    • There’s a big difference between not allowing any dissenting comment and not participating in foolish debating or not allowing accusatory and slanderous comments.

      • And some bloggers have finally had to cut people off for fighting them constantly. I have never seen any reasonable person ban someone after one comment.

      • Right. I have tried leaving comments before on the Brotherhood News site that were neither argumentative nor accusatory in tone but just offering a different perspective and yet none of those comments are ever approved.

  5. It was… good deal.

  6. Also, one more if I may… The article above states, “For all the disagreements that existed among the Christians in Corinth, Paul never once tells them that they must agree with one another.” Yet Paul wrote to them, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another, so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10; NIV) …didn’t he?
    And if unity is not uniformity as claimed above, then please help me to understand what Paul meant when he said. “that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Thank you.

    • Fair enough… I’ll correct myself as what I should have wrote is that Paul never says that the Corinthians must agree on all matters, having a uniformity. The context of Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians is agreement on the gospel and gospel-formed life, not a uniformity of practice (which is evident in his discussion of food in chapter 8).

  7. Thanks so much for the correction. But additionally, if we follow the next few verses, isn’t it true that the specific context is that we shouldn’t be following any men’s thoughts, no matter how prestigious they may seem, but just following Jesus?

    And lastly (I appreciate your patience w/me :)), how can it not be “uniformity of practice” as well, when He say things like he does in 1 Cor. 11:17-34, 14:1-40, and 16:1-2, etc, insisting that they do certain things in a certain way – actually according to “the commandments of the Lord” which he had written (14:37) – when it came to their (and therfore our) communion, worship, and giving? Isn’t it exactly “uniformity of practice” with other congregations that he’s seeking to ensure in those passages (16:1-2)? Thanks!

    • Just because the church is uniform on certain practices (e.g., the Lord’s Supper) does not mean that it must be uniform on every practice. For instance, right in the Corinthian church the issue of what sort of meats a Christian may eat shows that the church did not have a uniform practice. While some were trying to force a uniform practice, either by prohibiting certain meats or by trying to force certain meats upon others, Paul’s solution is not to establish a uniform practice.

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