Diagnosis Before Treatment: Seeking Peace In Our Splintered Family (Mar-June 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

by Nick Gill
March – June, 2010

Facing Our FailureA Review of Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ, by Todd Deaver – Oliver Springs, Tennessee: self-published, 2008. No ISBN; 135 pages; [ptdeaver@yahoo.com] or [http://todddeaver.wordpress.com]. Forward by Dr. Randy Willingham.

I, therefore,the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience,bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body andone Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through alland in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-7 NET – emphasismine).

“We don’t tolerate inconsistency among denominationalists or brethren we regard as ‘liberal.’ We highlight it and expose it. We advertise it far and wide as indisputable proof of their error. What then should we do with our own? … a theology that can’t be consistently applied is one that is fundamentally flawed. Some things must change.” (From the “Introduction” to Facing Our Failure. Emphasis mine.)

We live in a divided family. That’s hardly news, but it is also hardly addressed anymore. One group lobs grenades over its self-constructed walls, while the other groups have marched away from the city that desperately needs an army to march around it playing trumpets till the walls fall down. I think this book can be a summons for that group to assemble. I hope it isn’t too late – not for the walls, but for the call to muster.

See, I’ve already written one review of this book, over at my blog, Fumbling Towards Eternity. If you swing over to the blog of another of this issue’s contributors, Jay Guin, you’ll find more. I wrote mine over a year ago, and when I got this opportunity to review it for New Wineskins (thank you, brothers Keith and Edward), I figured I’d just flesh out that older review a bit and be done with it. Nay, nay! In the past year, I’ve done considerable reflection on these matters (along with a bit of writing) and I’ve realized that the fellowship gap has broadened and the walls have gotten higher and thicker. We live in a divided family.

PatternismIn this book, Todd combines several gifts and talents to produce what one reader has called “the book we needed 50 years ago.” He’s one of those Deavers – his grandfather Roy and father Mac both are well-known preachers, missionaries, and writers. Todd and his brother Weylan carry on the family legacy as ministers and articulate writers – only now from opposite sides of the grace divide. Facing Our Failures is the fruit of several years of research and dedication to the idea that somewhere, someone would have articulated a principle that would explain the seeming inconsistency in the conservative extension of fellowship. When none appeared, Todd realized that there wasn’t one – that our family is being shredded because of a theology that literally cannot be applied consistently – and he gave us this book.

Do not misunderstand, though – he gave all of us this book. All of us in this dysfunctional family we call the Churches of Christ. Some of us were born here, and have migrated from conservative to progressive over a period of time because of many of the issues Todd articulates, including:

    inconsistency in
  • inconsistency in which “false” teachers we fellowship;
  • inconsistency between what we teach as requiring severing of fellowship and what we actually sever fellowship over; all of which boils down to the conservative inability to produce a consistent and practicable principle of fellowship.

Others of us (like myself) were converted to Christ in the context of the Restoration Movement. I was baptized by Jeff Walling at the Spring Revival at Lipscomb in 1994. I was just out of the Army, and had packed a duffel and ridden the “Big Grey Dog” from Birmingham to Nashville because I’d encountered some Lipscomb folk and wanted to be near them. The Lipscomb community embraced me and rescued me. The Churches of Christ are my family because God put me here. I am who I am now because of the grace of God, and because I, too, have seen these inconsistencies and the fruit of bitterness and failed witness-to-the-world that has come from a fervently-held (but inconsistently executed) extremism on fellowship. Todd documents many, many instances where brethren disagree over the boundaries of fellowship, teach that our souls are in eternal jeopardy if we don’t get the fellowship boundaries exactly right, and yet somehow remain in fellowship with each other.

All of this, Todd achieves in a slim, double-spaced volume with accurate and clear footnotes to allow the reader to examine the source material for themselves. More importantly, he writes as a conservative to conservatives. On his blog, he writes:
“In case anyone hasn’t noticed, I have an agenda. My aim is to help conservative/traditional members of the Church of Christ to see the inconsistencies and failures of their (in my humble perspective) radical exclusivism, and to open their minds to what I believe is a more biblical approach to the issue of salvation and fellowship.

“In spite of what you may have read elsewhere, I am in no way connected with the Emerging Church Movement (of which I am embarrassingly ignorant), I do not espouse fellowship with Muslims and Buddhists, and I am not trying to move anyone away from the authority of the Bible. I am pleading for more adherence to scripture, not less. I do not claim agreement with every other self-styled

“progressive,” and if there are some who do deny the authority of God’s word or advocate universalism, let it be clearly understood that I am not among them.”

That, I am convinced, is the greatest value of this text. Todd has his feet firmly planted on both sides of the grace divide. Todd and a few others feel especially called to be a catalyst to return our brotherhood to our roots as a unity movement, focused on the missio dei and “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” with all who call on the name of the Lord. Todd has performed a master clinician’s work in offering this book as a diagnosis of the dilemma facing our family. I pray that its companion volume, planned as a prescription for peace among us, finds many conservative brethren convinced that the hull of their “fellow-ship” (sorry, Max!)1 is full of holes. But that’s not enough. The walls won’t come down without pleading. Not fighting – not debating – pleading. I plead with you to read this book, and then share it with as many conservative elders and ministers as you can. Plead with them to read it. Plead with them to let themselves be challenged by Todd’s reasonable and forthright exposition of their dilemma.

Most of all, please don’t let this text be an excuse to justify writing off our brothers and sisters trapped behind walls of their own construction. Don’t let it be an artifact – a “black box” explaining to history why our movement crashed and burnt. Rather, let it be a clarion call to everyone in our divided family to renew their efforts to heed Paul’s pleading. Unity already exists! Christ created it and we received it when we’re baptized into it. Let us heed the call to muster together and make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

1 [editor’s note: See Max Lucado sermon ”Life Aboard the Fellow-Ship”]
New WineskinsNick GillNick Gill describes himself at his blog, Fumbling Towards Eternity, with the words: “orphan-poet-

 

adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband-counselor-desperate seeker after my Father’s face”. He is evidently camera-shy.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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