A Review Of "Our Freedom In Christ"

by Jeff Asher

On April 5, 1996, brother Robert Moore, on elder in the 13th and Jefferson Streets Church of Christ in Perryton, Texas preached a sermon entitled "Our Freedom in Christ." This sermon was taped and submitted to me by a former member of that congregation for my review.

Before I analyze the sermon, let me comment on its significance by which it merits attention in this medium. Brother Moore's sermon is more than one sermon, preached to one assembly, in one small northwest Texas town. It is a symptom of the times. It is an expression of a spirit that is loose among the churches and growing stronger every day. The sermon breaths the spirit of denominationalism that swept brethren away into the Christian Church less than a century past. It will do it again.

I bear brother Moore no ill will. I have never met him. I have offered to study with him and the entire church. I offer again to do so. My response to his sermon is one way of letting him and my brethren in Perryton know that these matters are serious and have bearing on our eternal well-being.

Denial Of The Restoration Principle

The first thing I observed in the sermon was a denial of the biblical principle of restoration. Brother Moore said,

"I think part of our problem has been that we have been trying to convert people to Jesus by convincing them that we do a better job of keeping the rules and traditions than anybody else does. Instead of building faith through Scriptures, we have tried to build faith and confidence in a system. We have preached a gospel that destroys the message of Jesus by implanting in its place a confidence in our ability to figure out all the rights and wrongs, and the whens and whys, and the wheres and wherefores."

In this statement Brother Moore expresses his attitude toward the commandments of Christ when he rejects the plea for doing "Bible things in Bible ways" and calling "Bible things by Bible names." Our plea to the world is book, chapter, and verse (1 Peter 4:11). I believe there are "rules" (Philippians 3:16) and "traditions" (2 Thessalonians 3:6) in the Bible which must be kept. These "rules" and "traditions" constitute "the faith" (Jude 3) and are to be observed (1 John 2:4-6). This "obedience to the faith" (Romans 1:5) is the essence of justification "by faith" (Romans 5:1; 16:26). This "faith" is called "the law of faith" (Romans 3:27), the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2), the "law of liberty" (James 1:25) and "the law to Christ" (1 Corinthians 9:20). How can a man who has as brother Moore put it been working on it for 40 plus years not see it?

He continues by implying that we either have not or cannot figure out "the right and wrongs the whens and whys, and the wheres and wherefores." Maybe in this 40 plus years brother Moore has not read Ephesians 5:17, "Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is." He must have also missed Ephesians 3:3-4, "How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may have my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)..." These passages, as well as many others, affirm the understandability of the New Testament. However, brother Moore does not agree. He is not sure any more.

Think about the implications of his statements. If brother Moore is correct, we should no longer be "confident" in what we have "figured out" regarding baptism. Maybe the Baptists are right on its design, and the Methodists right on its action? Then, there is what we have "figured out" about the Lord's Supper. Just maybe the Catholics have been right about Thursday night all along? I wonder just what there is that brother Moore has "figured out" in which he is "confident" regarding the Scripture?

This is why I conclude brother Moore denies the restoration principle. The "right and wrongs" of the "system" he has in mind is the divine pattern for salvation and the church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood. It seems he is not sure any longer that the "seed," which "is the word of God" (Luke 8:11) sown in the honest and good hearts of men will produce after its kind (Genesis 1:12).

The situation that gave rise to brother Moore's sermon was the departure of brethren concerning a corruption of the work and worship of the church (John 4:24). Brother Moore dismissed these brethren as "rulie rightie" who left because "something was wrong" and "the elders wouldn't make it right." I can understand why they left, his concept of the work, worship and organization of the church is "a system" that "destroys the message of Jesus." God forbid!

There are numerous examples in the Old Testament which present men taking the word of God as their sole guide and establishing true religion (Exodus 25:8-9, 40; 1 Chronicles 28:11, 12, 19; 29:19; 2 Kings 22:8-20; 23:1-3; 2 Chronicles 28:1, 2, 22-25; 29:1-7; 20-30, 35; 31:1). Likewise, the New Testament presents the restoration principle in parables (Luke 8:4-15), in prayers (John 17:9-23) and in its claims of being a pattern (2 Timothy 1:13; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 John 9). The principle is implied in warnings against apostasy (Heb. 6:4, 8; Acts 20:26-30; 1 Corinthians 5:6-7) and judgment (John 12:48; Acts 17:31). There is nothing clearer in all the word of God than the fundamental concept that all men can take the same Bible and "figure it out" all arriving at the same conclusions regarding Christ and His church.

Christians Not Under The Law

Next brother Moore said:

"It is by grace through faith that we are able to produce the works of God. Any attempt on our part to serve God by rules and traditions will always lead to divisions and factions and that's where we are right now. You see the question is: Somebody did it wrong, and if it was done wrong then we have got to do something to make it right, and, if the elders won't make it right then we have got to leave. That's sad folks, but that's what happens when you start playing the 'rules game.' You say, 'But wait a minute Robert, are you saying there are no rules?' Oh, no! I am saying there's one rule, the principle 'by faith.'"

While brother Moore is careful to use Bible terms, he is not careful to use them in the same manner which the Bible does when he says, "It is by grace through faith," he does not mean the "obedience of faith" of which Paul writes (Romans 1:5; 16:26). If he did he would not object to brethren contending that "wrong" should be made "right" (Romans 6:14-18). A thing cannot be "by faith" and at the same time not be "right."

For example, God instructed Cain that he do "right," that is, what He had commanded (Genesis 4). Cain failed, and this is why Abel's sacrifice, not his, was said to have been offered "by faith" (Hebrews 11:4).

However, I am not surprised that brother Moore would object to brethren insisting that "wrong" be made "right" when he contends there is only "one rule," the principle by faith." There is not a "gnat's whisker" of difference between his one rule and what the Baptists teach regarding salvation namely, "All you have to do is believe." Brother Moore has denied the parallel, but logically this is the consequence. If "faith" does not require obedience to all the "rules" and "traditions" and allows "wrong" to pass as "right" then the Christian is not under any law, period! Yet, as we noted above, the New Testament is clear; the Christian is under law to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21; James 1:25; 2:8, 12; Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14; Romans 3:23-28; 7:22, 23; 8:1-2, 7, 8; Galatians 6:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; Philippians 3:16; Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46; Hebrews 5:8, 9; Romans 1:5; 16:26; 10:16; Hebrews 11:8; 1 Peter 1:21; Acts 6:7; Romans 15:18; 4:15; 5:13; 1 John 3:4).

It should be noted that brother Moore made no attempt to justify the practices to which the brethren had objected or the elder's actions. It seems clear to me that brother Moore is persuaded that a "wrong" is accepted of God if a man has his concept of "faith," which is something far short of obedient faith (James 2:14-26; Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 7:19).

Brother Moore has "missed the boat" in equating the requirement of obedience to all the law of Christ with the requirement of obedience to all the law of Moses. The Scriptures do not contrast the law and the gospel regarding obedience to "rules," "traditions," and "commandments." Rather, the contrast centers upon the means of forgiveness. Under the Law of Moses there was no means of forgiveness, except in type or shadow (Hebrews 10:1-4). Whereas, under the law of Christ, there is forgiveness in Jesus' blood (Hebrews 9:14, 15; 1 John 1:5-10; 2:1, 2; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). Brother Moore contends we make the gospel into a system of justification by law-keeping if we teach the necessity of the obedience of faith. However, he fails to see that in the gospel the sinner can be forgiven and go on to obey. Whereas under the law the sinner was not forgiven whether he later obeyed or not (Galatians 3:10, 11). The only man ever justified under the law of Moses was the man who never committed one single sin. Whereas under the gospel we are contemplating the justification of sinners and this requires the death of Jesus appropriated through obedient faith which is not a legal or meritorious means of justification.

Therefore, the fact that forgiveness is attainable does not make a provision for continued disobedience to the law of Christ. Paul rejected the idea that we could continue in sin that grace might abound (Romans 3:8; 6:1, 2; Colossians 3:1-6; Ephesians 4:17-32). Rather, he insisted that because we have been purchased by the blood of Christ we are to give diligence to obey all the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-20; Romans 6:11-18).

Continuous Grace Or Sin-Cleansing

Observe how brother Moore believes God treats the "wrongs" which are uncorrected:

"If you repented for any other reason than because you had faith that God would accept your intent, as well as, whatever success you had in repentance, your repentance might not work. You see where I was in 1972 was to realize that every thing I had been doing, I had been doing out of my strength, and my resolve, and my integrity, and my wisdom and my study and my diligence. And, I was not allowing room for the grace of God to work in my life."

Brother Moore now makes it clear why the "wrongs" do not have to be made "right." He also explains his concept of "by faith." What he means is "intent." So long as we "intend" to do what God requires it is accepted, whether or not we actually do what God requires.

Let us apply this new found principle of "by faith." For example, does God accept whatever success one may have in denominational baptism as along as he has faith that God will accept his intent? Many a Baptist has thought he was "following his Lord in baptism" when he confessed, "I believe God for Christ's sake has pardoned me of my sins." The Baptist preacher even said he was baptizing "for the remission of sins." Yet, this poor soul has never heard the gospel preached, much less obeyed that gospel. Will God accept his intent? Will God's grace work here if he will just allow it and not rely upon his ability to figure out the rights and wrongs regarding water baptism?

Another application would come in the area of worship. Specifically, let's consider the folks in the Christian Church who sing with the instrument. I have yet to meet one whose "intent" was other than to worship in "Spirit and truth" as per John 4:24. Does God accept their worship so long as they have brother Moore's "faith principle." They do not succeed in "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). Nor are they successful at "teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16). Now, while they intend to sing in such a way as to please God, they have not yet figured out all the "whys and wherefores" regarding the use of the instrument, but we need not be concerned, if brother Moore is right.

Let's look at a Bible example of this problem, Acts 8:14-25. Simon had a proper "intent," he believed, was baptized and continued with Philip (Acts 8:13). However, he had not yet "figured out" all the "whys and wherefores" concerning the "laying on of the apostles' hands." In his ignorance, Simon offered to buy the power to lay on hands. Surely God's grace would work in a situation like this, if Simon would allow it?

Yet, of Simon's actions Peter said, "For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (8:23). Peter did not believe that Simon's failure to "figure out" the "whys and wherefores" concerning this matter was mitigated by brother Moore's "one rule." Simon sinned; he was wrong, and he had to make it right. Peter said, "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee." (I wonder if brother Moore thinks Peter is "rulie rightie" and destined to be a cause of "divisions and factions.")

Now, God's grace would work in this situation if Simon would allow it. However, not as brother Moore things, apart from Simon's resolve, integrity, or diligence. Peter commanded that Simon repent and pray. There is nothing to indicate that God would accept his intent and whatever success he may have. The Bible is clear on this subject. Our forgiveness for wrongs committed depends upon our meeting the conditions for remission not merely intending to do so (1 John 1:9; James 5:16).

The Church Should Change With The Times

Concerning the church changing brother Moore said:

Where you find very detailed strict constraints, you place those constraints on yourself. Where you find people expressing themselves and open about things, you feel more comfortable to express yourself. Let me tell you what is happening in our society right now. The neighborhood bar ... has replaced what the church should have been ... what I am saying is there should be a place where people can go and say, "Man this is the way I feel ... [and hear] ... "Well sit down buddy and I'll listen to you." That's what the church was meant to be, a place where people could come with their problems and sit down and somebody listen to them. But, you don't feel comfortable, and I don't feel comfortable in a very rigid environment. So, one reason we need to change is just to be more open to the public, just to let them know that they can come here hurting and we'll try to understand them. But, if they see us getting all bent out of shape over whether we dismiss with a song or with a prayer they're not going to talk about what struggles they're going through in their life.

The first point I would observe is that brother Moore either does not know the difference between matters of opinion and matters of faith, or he purposely mislead the audience concerning the brethren he calls "rulie rightie." There was no contention in the church over whether to "dismiss with a song or to dismiss with a prayer." However, there were questions raised concerning the scripturalness of the church paying the preacher's Rotary dues, the singing of secular and religious carols in conjunction with what is called "Christmas," the support of human benevolent societies, sponsoring churches, the use of singing groups such as Echo and the LCU chorus in the worship, church sponsored recreation, etc. These are the things to which brethren objected. The brethren who left would never have upset the peace and unity of the local church over the judgments which brother Moore suggests in his illustration. Brother Moore knows this.

If his statement means anything, it means the church needs to stop being so strict concerning our faith and practice in order to attract more people to "us." He began his sermon with an unscientific survey of the numeric growth of the church, concluding that only three souls had been converted from the world in the last twenty years in Perryton. Yet, he thinks we can do better if we will change and quit playing the "rules game."

Moore sounds just like a Baptist preacher criticizing the Church of Christ for being "too narrow." He reminds me of Ketcherside and Garrett who want to extend fellowship to as many as possible without concern for doctrine.

If brother Moore applies his wisdom to the matters mentioned above he will find no place to stop. Does he believe the folks in the world are going to find a place with us when they learn we are "all bent out of shape" over instrumental music; immersion only as baptism, every first day of the week observance of the Lord's Supper and other doctrinal concerns. Most of the world hasn't "figured out" the "whys and wherefores" on these questions and think us rather silly. How does brother Moore propose we help these "hurting" people without getting them "bent out of shape" as well on these things? I submit he is willing to compromise them all and change the church to accommodate the world.

However, Paul does not agree with brother Moore's ideas: "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in {your} mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled, In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and {be} not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, {and} which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;" (Colossians 1:21-23). "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, {so} walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6, 7)

Brethren, think! Some are drifting further and further into denominationalism. Brother Moore is an example of the trend. He is preaching the message of the denominations. Are you going to heed it or oppose it? Now is not the time to shrink back, but rather to advance. Our souls and the souls of others are at stake. Let us therefore contend earnestly for the faith once for al time delivered to the saints.