Monday, February 14, 2011

Review of F. LaGard Smith's "Who is My Brother?" by Dan Mayfield

                F. LaGard Smith (FLS) is a well-known speaker throughout the brotherhood, the one mark often held against him being his association with liberal Pepperdine University (A Christian University).  His expertise was Law, but he has made a name for himself as a writer.  “Out on a Broken Limb”, a response to Shirley McClain’s book, gained him quite a bit of notoriety.  His Chronological Bible, The Daily Bible, has been very popular.  The subject of this review is a book that sets out to answer “who my brother is?’,  but often deals more with “who may I fellowship?”  The book proposes that there are different levels of fellowship while allowing that there is a special fellowship between Baptized Believers. 

      What is he saying?  Throughout the book, FLS says things that leave you wondering where he stand on important issues.   In one passage, after fellowshipping a denomination and being so moved by the worship experience,  he ask, “are these my brothers and sisters?”  What is he saying? Does sincerity or zeal make it right to LaGard?  He answers mostly not, but he continues to worship with the entire group instead of calling  the ‘few’-- who might possibly be Christian – to repent and worship in spirit and truth.   

        Another "what is he saying" moment is on page 19, when LaGard says, “It would surprise many within the churches of Christ to be told that virtually all Protestant denominations – including Baptists, Presbyterians,… -- speak in their various liturgies of the church of Christ (meaning the universal body of Christ) almost as naturally as we do.” So! What is he saying? Why would that surprise us and who really cares when we know there's more to being right than having the right name. This is the way LaGard scores cheap points on something that is irrelevant. I would say that most of us aren't confused to think we can fellowship them because they refer to the universal church of Christ? His point is irrelevant even if we are surprised, it doesn’t change our position against the vast errors in these same denominations?  I’m not trying to be argumentative, but LaGard is leading towards a conclusion.  

        Where does he stand on important issues like divorce and remarriage?  Where does he stand on this issue if someone who has not yet become a Christian? He remains ambiguous but seems to lead in a particular direction, saying, “for the moment, set aside the complicated questions surrounding the marital and spiritual state of those who come to Christ after already having been unscripturally divorced and remarried.”  Does he believe there are two standards for Christians and non-Christians?  He makes it clear that a Christian lives by Christ’s stringent standard (pg. 143), but he offers the possibility that “divorce and remarriage [for non-Christians?, DM], instrumental music, etc.,” might be “disputable matters” (pg. 145).  This is not how the Bible is to be taught. But it's a perfect example of the manner a Lawyer in the Bible approached Scripture. 

        FLS does a poor job of establishing, with Scripture, that our fellowship extends outside of the church.  This is one problem that arises in the book with FLS’s varying levels of fellowship.  On one hand, he says, 

“Given our particular beliefs regarding baptism, therefore, it would have been unthinkable for us to fellowship as Christians anyone who did not share our view of baptism, both in understanding and personal experience.  Consequently, ours has been a closely-drawn, exclusive circle of fellowship” (pg. 18)

 

On the other hand,  FLS so easily crosses the lines that he says do exist.  How does he help the reader  to distinquish the lines when he freely admits to fellowshipping with denominations who are clearly unlike the Lord’s church in baptism?   He says one thing, but his example is something different for when he says, “ours has been a closely-drawn, exclusve circle of fellowship” he is not including himself. 

         FLS suggests that it is probably not our best motives that try to draw lines of fellowship. This is another attempt at making a cheap point based on what LaGard thinks are our motives. In his words, it might be more about our own "conceit” and “need for self-identity.”  On page 14, he says,  “If we could ever fully grasp who we are, and whose we are, and why we are, our perceived need or selfish desire to draw lines of fellowship would be so transformed in motive that we could not possibly draw such lines without tears and torment.”  I don’t recall anyone saying it was easy or enjoyable, I believe the point being made was whether we should be drawing lines. It is curious how a book that attempts to establish "bright lines" of fellowship can accuse others for a ‘selfish desire to draw lines of fellowship.’ FLS is wrong and unkind to judge peoples' hearts when there are perfectly good reasons for drawing these lines. Paul says, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).  FLS is a lawyer who confuses the legitimate teaching of the Bible that love and faithfulness can be our motive for drawing lines. The right motives for drawing the lines we do in the church don't seem to be part of LaGard's these. No, instead we are conceited, we are ignorant, and our narrow lines indicate something is amiss in us. That's the tone coming from LaGard.

                Explaining the connection between baptism and fellowship, FLS says, “the more narrow one’s view of baptism, the more narrow the acceptable bounds of fellowship. Or to put it another way, there is an interdependent relationship between baptism and fellowship: an exclusive view of baptism prompts an exclusive view of fellowship; whereas an inclusive view of fellowship demands a non-exclusive view of Baptism”  (pg. 19,20).  I'm to conclude that I have an “exclusive” and narrow view of Baptism and FLS does not.  When it comes to ‘fellowship’, I contend that there are only two places of fellowship: with God and with fellow Christians.  From Scripture, the ONLY fellowship that is recognized is with Baptized Believers in good standing with God. 1John 1:3-10 shows that Biblical fellowship is horizontal and vertical:  horizontal relates to Christian fellowship and vertical relates to our fellowship with God. We may associate with those who have not yet become Christians,  and for Brothers who have fallen away, we may not even do that.  We are not in fellowship with people just because they are religious.  Fellowshipping these people would confuse the flock and bring trouble into the church.  Fellowship doesn’t apply to erring brothers and it doesn’t apply to Catholics or Baptist.  In Bible language, they are religious and wrong.  They are not a Christian in the Bible sense of the word.  To base fellowship on whether or not a person believes Jesus is the Son of God creates the situation where Christians are fellowshipping with those who are not yet in fellowship with God.  Everybody believes something, even demons and non-confessing priests, but they are not who we fellowship.  The Calvinist Baptist and the Popish Catholic Church, may be religious, but they do not help our effort to bring people to Jesus Christ.  FLS’s ‘inclusive’ view of fellowship is not supported. 

              As someone once said,  ‘control the language and control the argument.’  I am finding that FLS is unclear when it comes to the word ‘fellowship.’  For example, without ever establishing from the Bible that there is any fellowship, other than that shared by Christians,  FLS  regularly uses terminology like “’in Christ’ fellowship” (what other kind is there?) (pg. 120),  and “sliding scale of fellowship” (pg. 104),  and a “five-fold fellowship.”  This is a recipe for creating confusion, not unity.

The way FLS misapplies verses helps to confuse, not clear up,  the lines of fellowship.  FLS mentions Jesus eating with tax-gatherers and sinners which has nothing in common with (as he tries to equate) laughing and joking around with the neighbors next door who buy Playboy and ‘knock back a sixpack.’  From what I can tell, Jesus kept company with people he could teach.  But it is unwise to equate a fourth of July barbeque with Biblical fellowship.  Jesus was not in fellowship with those who were not in fellowship with Him. 

                What is he saying about the importance of Scriptural Worship and Baptism?  He justifies his worship with the Messianic Jews (MJ) in Jerusalem  by quoting Paul’s words in Romans 15:7-9 where Paul says  ‘receive you one another.’ Paul’s words have nothing to do with ‘receiving’ a religious body that still worships according to the Old Testament.  FLS asks, “Could these Torah-chanting, yarmulke-wearing, Passover-observing Jews really be my brothers and sisters in Christ?  The apostle Paul certainly thought so.”   I disagree;  Paul’s words would only apply if their practices were a matter of private observance, at home, not incorporated and institutionalized into the worship service.  Why doesn’t FLS know that the Messianic Jews believe Christians are still under the Law (Torah) and congregationally observing the Sabbath?  They are confused about the second coming of Christ, reestablishing a kingdom on earth.  They are Calvinistic and seem to be confused on the doctrine of the godhead (see inset).  They observe circumcision, though they do not bind it upon Gentiles.  MJ’s  should know that the New Testament doesn’t  recognize Jew and Gentile or circumcision (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 7:19).  FLS should not be so confused to wonder if these are his brothers.  They teach error about the nature of God.

 God is Three Persons in that God is the Father. God is the Son, who was Jesus Christ in the flesh. God is the Holy Spirit present in each converted person. This means that, though the Holy spirit is not a separately unique third person, His ('His" because the Holy Spirit as seed is from the Father) presence in many men creates the Body of Christ.” (http://www.thesimpletruth.net/sentinel/trinity.html)

 

John's “don’t eat with such a one” comes to mind here. Perhaps LaGard feels some kinship with the Messianic Jews because they at least have baptism right. They are in error even on 
this point. The following is a typical explanation of Messianic Jewish practice of baptism.



Figure 1, accessed 5/22/2002 at: http://www.bethhillel.com/what_we_believe1.html

 

When it comes to baptism, they immerse, but not for the right reason.  They teach the false idea that baptism depicts a spiritual event that already occurred in the past.  Why does FLS ask if these people are his brothers and sisters, and then affirm that Paul would think so? 


 FLS doesn’t seem to have a proper understanding of Baptism.  He allows that people who are immersed for the wrong reason (not for the remission of sins) may still have received a valid baptism.  One brother offers the following comments:


                  Figure 2http://www.seektheoldpaths.com/stop899.htm


That FLS would get this wrong is not defensible.  The preceding analysis of Smith’s position is right on.  Everything a Christian does must be done in faith.  How can a person be baptized in faith when that person doesn’t know the purpose of Baptism.  Wayne Jackson says Smith’s position is confusing,  and I might say that a man with the intellect of Wayne Jackson is not easily confused.  Jackson says, “Though brother Smith argues strongly most of the time for the essentiality of baptism for the remission of sins, on other occasions he suggests that "commitment to Christ" is "more important" than baptism. He contends that the issue of whether or not one must understand the "purpose" of baptism when receiving it, is one of those "grey" areas about which "we're simply not told." His 'tis/'taint mentality is quite confusing” (You may order a copy of Jackson's full review for $3.00 postage paid. P.O. Box 55265, Stockton, CA 95205). 

In chapter six,  FLS tells about his six month each year stay ‘by the rivers of Babylon.’  He describes the church he attends, Ashton-under-Hill. Free Church, in loving and brotherly terms:

“the congregation is not organizationally tied to any fellowship of congregations, but is local, independent, and autonomous….What I found was a mixed blessing.  It was a congregation of some fifty souls, with committed, godly elders overseeing the work.  Having no pulpit preacher, they often exercise a mutual ministry among the men of the congregation.  These men are regularly augmented by outside speakers drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Each first day of the week they gather around the table for the Lord’s Supper.  And on one occasion I was present at a baptism which was done with such emphasis and thoughtfulness that it put our all-too-perfunctory baptisms to shame.  It occurred to me that we had been right all along to insist that the pattern of sound doctrine, wherever followed, would produce similar results.  In fact, here was a group of people who had never heard of the ‘churches of Christ,’ yet they were very much like us.  If they differed from us in any major respect apart from any particular doctrinal understanding, it was in what I sense to be a much more profound worship experience.

 

I wondered about this congregation that FLS attends six months out of the year (I remember hearing FLS speak, I believe in 1994, about his attending this congregation in England). Was it true that the most important difference between this lone congregation in England and the church of Christ was their ‘more profound worship experience?’  In fact, the congregation does exist and times of services can be viewed on the web.  I  received an interesting e-mail from a preacher of the Gospel who lives in that region of the world. It sheds some light on the congregation that FLS speaks so highly of.

Dear Dan,

Ashton-Under-Hill-Free-Church.

I have learnt through hearsay brother Smith is no longer in fellowship with this little group of false disciples at Ashton-Under-Hill...

Now as I say, this is hearsay, brother Smith should announce to the brotherhood if he no longer worships with these people, especially when he seems to advocate that he does.

In Smith’s book, Who is my Brother, Smith brings to our attention that he worships with this church in England. I have visited this church with other good brethren. Ashton-Under-Hill-Free-Church is Calvinistic (predestination and direct action of the HS in conversion). They teach that baptism does NOT save. Women lead in prayer and give testimony. The instrument is used in worship, "but not when LaGard attends".

We have offered to preach the truth and this has been rejected.

They did consider Smith a member and a brother! Smith I understand has also given financially to the work there. Smith may well ask "Who is my Brother?" He would be wise to use the scriptures to determine the answer in this important question, because at the moment it would seem he is in error.

Smith has criticised Lucado on his stance of failing to preach baptism, yet Smith openly worships in England with people who teach much the same thing as Lucado.

FREE CHURCHES or CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES

A long history exists in Britain of congregations rejecting Catholicism and later Anglican ecclesiastical rule. Out of English separatism of the 1500s came the Puritan movement which was mainly Calvinistic in doctrine. The first Puritan ‘Free Church’ has been dated to 1572 at Wandsworth (London). Previous to that date the only congregational churches to my knowledge were the English ‘churches of Christ’ and continental Anabaptists (in eastern England) who were not and in fact rejected Calvinism. Examples of early ‘churches of Christ’ include Oxford, 1157 and Cambridge (Chesterton) 1450. These are typical of autonomous congregations teaching baptism for remission of sins by immersion for repentant believers. Over the years these and the Calvinistic churches has resulted in the Independent Free Church or Congregational Church movement. The term ‘Free Church’ reflects that such congregations are outside of the ecclesiastical polity of the Church of England and originally had no higher authority than the local congregation. These churches today are Calvinistic in theology excepting the Churches of Christ. The term ‘Free Church’ is peculiar to Britain because of the ‘State’ Anglican Church.

The main opponent to Calvinism in the reformed churches was Jakob Hermans (1560-1609) known as Jacob Arminus. Arminus originally a Calvinist rejected Irresistible Grace, Limited Atonement and Unconditional Election but retained Perseverance of the Saints (one saved, always saved) and Total (hereditary) Depravity (original sin).

Some Free Churches may hold to Arminian doctrine, though this is very, very unlikely. None to my knowledge in fact do so. The main objection to the Calvinism of the Free or Congregational Churches in the 1750s was the Wesley brothers who gave us Methodism.

The Free Church movement, using that name is represented in most large towns and cities in England. The congregational movement signed a joint agreement on the teaching of moderate Calvinism in 1832. Despite their appeal to congregational autonomy there are ruling councils for the various Free Church and congregational movements.

It is interesting to note that the congregation meeting at Ashton-Under-Hill, where brother F. LaGard Smith meets, as stated in his book ‘Who is my Brother?’ is a ‘Free Church’. This church has contacts within the main stream denominations, shown be their approval of the Tear Fund. This brother Smith does not tell in his book. On our visit to the congregation there were visiting and preaching Americans who were Calvinistic Baptist in their teachings.

It would be wrong to think of the congregation at Ashton being some group of isolated jolly Englishmen rediscovering Christianity in the beautiful Cotswold Hills, of England. Beautiful yes, isolated no. The church at Ashton maybe autonomous but is part of a greater world-wide movement, Calvinistic and primarily Baptist. They use the instrument, they reject believers baptism for the remission of sins teaching the direct action of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Have women leading and are denominational in their outlook towards other groups of religious people.

I am not aware of the church at Ashton having a web site.

Kind regards,

Brotherly, Keith.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Men occasionally stumble on the truth,

but most of them pick themselves up and

hurry off as if nothing had happened.

  --Sir Winston Churchill

Keith Sisman1 is a Gospel preacher who is compiling a history of the church during medieval times.  He has visited the congregation that FLS speaks glowingly of and says it is nothing like the Lord’s church.  It is misleading for FLS to say,  “If they differed from us in any major respect apart from any particular doctrinal understanding, it was in what I sense to be a much more profound worship experience.”   Why say,  “apart from?”  That is no small point that he is willing to set aside just to emphasize their worshipful spirit.    FLS knows what this group believes (he gives a glimpse of it starting at the bottom of pg. 104) and still he says, “So I find myself among faithful, God-fearing, worshipful believers who have taught me much about the dynamics of worship, and yet their response to Christian birth is mixed at best” (pg. 105).  Something about that statement just doesn’t ring true.  From my reading of Scripture, it seems unwise to call someone ‘faithful and God-fearing” if they reject God’s plan of salvation.  It is not exactly unique to find in this world religious bodies that have worship zeal.  Why would anyone find it necessary to worship with a group of people who are biblically unsound?  The apostle Paul visited synagogues (a parallel to visiting denominations), but he did it to teach and correct them.  This did not keep Paul from worshipping with Christians or from establishing new congregations where the Saved worshipped God in spirit and truth. According to Keith Sisman’s experience, these people aren’t open to hearing the truth.  It seems to me that FLS  would be more effective if he went back and began a new congregation.  It doesn’t sound like he has made much of an inroad with Ashton-under-Hill if they divert back to their false worship once he has left.  Most of these people, by his estimation,  are not Christian (few have been baptized in a way ‘pursuant’ to the New Testament). 

              FLS can’t find a passage that calls for shunning false teachers. Under the heading, “Looking Closely at the Text”,  he examines 3 passages that are “bandied about” against him:  Ephesians 5:11;  Romans 16:17,18;  2 John 9-11.  The first says, “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”   FLS says, “not a single word about teaching doctrinal error,” and “Paul is clearly not talking about false teachers” (pg. 199).  It seems that FLS’s “close” look didn’t look back just five verse where Paul says,  “Let no man deceive you with vain words….be ye not therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:6-8).  FLS says Eph. 5:11 says nothing about false teaching, but it certainly does.  In context, the “fruitless deeds of darkness” result from the “vain words” of false teachers.  The false teacher is to be exposed.  Next,  he quotes Paul,

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are  not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.

 

Then FLS says, “once again we look in vain for an inspired imperative to shun as false teachers those with whom we happen to disagree on some doctrinal matter.”  I wonder if he read the verse while he typed it,  because it warns against the false teacher. I have to wonder if he knows that something “contrary to the teaching you have learned” is a different teaching: hence, a false teaching?  The “smooth talk and flattery” that “deceives” the mind is new teaching: hence, they are false teachers.  For the last passage, 2 John 9-11,  he allows that it does have to do with the false teacher.  But he says it applies only to the major false teaching against the nature of Christ.  He says it is wrong to apply this verse to doctrinal differences like, among other  things, divorce and remarriage (1 Corinthians 5 says otherwise). 

              The not so ‘rare and special’ case that FLS suggest. He allows that the Bible does in fact teach that some teachers are so bad that they are no longer a brother, no longer fellowshipped.  However, he works really hard to suggest that nearly everyone is fellowshipped and are our Brother: hence, the lines of fellowship are VERY broad. While he disagrees with Mike Cope, Rubel Shelly and Max Lucado, he says they are not ‘False Teachers.’  Using his standard, you have to be cousin to the devil to no longer be considered a brother.  Under the heading of ‘A Rare and Special Case’ he literally distorts the Scripture.  He makes Paul’s action in 1 Timothy 1:20 and 2 Timothy 2:17 (of delivering over to Satan) to be applied only in the extreme cases where a Christian has denied the very essence of the Gospel: Jesus’ resurrection.  To make his case,  he overstates and distorts the words of Paul. How so?  If you look at those passages,  FLS interprets their saying “the resurrection has already come” into denying  “Jesus’ own resurrection" (pg. 124, also see inset).   


Why does FLS say "Among their teachings"? Does Smith know what other teachings they held because this writer doesn't. FLS has no proof that the error went beyond saying the resurrection had already occured and he therefore has no point.  The verse says that Philetus and Alexander and Hymenaeus  had a difference of opinion concerning the coming of Jesus.  Their teaching was destructive, it was heresy, but not more so than Cope, Shelly, and Lucado’s.  These three men believe in Jesus, they just preach wrong about Jesus. FLS does not further his argument by exaggerating the sin of Hymenaeus. FLS misapplies the words of Paul to create a narrow but lenient line between fellowship and disfellowship.

                In my estimation, his core error is spelled out in 2 John which says to have nothing to do with certain people.  John says there are to be lines of fellowship, but FLS doesn’t draw that line. John indicates there is such a thing as ‘guilt by association.’  There is no evidence that the men ‘delivered over to Satan’ fit the strict requirement offered by FLS . On page 125, he says of those 3 men,  “they are not just prodigal brothers, they are illegitimate sons.”  I guess his point is that if the three were only out  “sowing their oats” and wasting their inheritance (eternal),  Paul would not have taken such drastic action against them.  Personally, I don’t know how he concludes that one is worse than the other.  The man who “had his father’s wife” in 1 Corinthians 5 was just as bad as the three men in Timothy and Paul took the same action against him.  Paul concludes the chapter with a litany of sins and tells us to do the same thing with ‘so-called’ brothers who carry on this way.  We are not to eat with such a person.  So instead of Paul’s action being ‘a rare and special’ thing,  it is what we do when we exercise discipline.  But you would never know that by what FLS  says.   The same ‘rare’ case applies to the discipline described by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-18.  The result is that any Christian who persist in sin (sinful behavior and false teaching) is out of the church, out of fellowship, and is effectively neither a Believer or Brother. 

              FLS  doesn’t appear that to be confused about who is a Christian.  Although, Wayne Jackson says FLS  is unclear on whether a person must know the purpose of Baptism (thus, Baptist baptism would be acceptable). The book has some good points, especially on church discipline and his letter to Max Lucado is good.  His point  to Lucado about being united with Christ (through baptism) and unity of Believers was right on. And I agree with him that we can certainly learn from others.  Each congregation of the Lord must strive to restore the New Testament church.  Sometimes we Christians can get rusty and who would say that the denominations are doing everything wrong?  However,  FLS should be worshipping with Christians.  And His confusing use of words like believers and fellowship is not helpful.  Where the Bible says we must be in the world and associate with the world, FLS uses the word fellowship.  And what is the purpose of calling a member of a denomination a Believer?  Calling a denominational member, without qualifying it by pointing out their error, is unbiblical and misleading.  They are lost and it doesn’t further the truth by suggesting otherwise.  I do like Paul did in Athens,  I allow that they are ‘religious.” Also, it is confusing to talk about a ‘sliding scale of fellowship’ when the Bible clearly shows our fellowship is with faithful Christians.

              Wayne Jackson has done an in-depth review of ’s book; available for $3.00 postage paid. P.O. Box 55265, Stockton, CA 95205.  also believes in the destruction of the soul, not the eternal punishment of it.   also teaches that the alien sinner (unbaptized) is not amenable to Christ’s law on marriage, divorce and remarriage. 

 

 

 __________________________

 

1 Keith Sisman is living in Huntingdon, Cambs England.  He is writing a history of the Lord’s church during the dark ages.  Brother Sisman writes in the current issue of The Voice of Truth International:  “From the various available records, the following summarization can be made of the state and beliefs of the Lord’s people in Europe from the 1200s onwards:
     They believed that baptism was by immersion for believers for the remission of sins, whereby entry is made into Christ’s church (the only true church).  They taught that children are innocent, rejecting the teaching of original sin and proclaiming free will.  They rejected the use of special buildings, altars and other paraphernalia.  They rejected the idea of the clergy, teaching that all believers were of the universal priesthood of believers.
     Each congregation was autonomous and, wherever possible, had elders and deacons.  The Lord’s supper was taken each Sunday and was served as a memorial, not as an ordinance.  They rejected the use of special holy days.  They taught the triunity of the Godhead.  These believers were spread throughout Europe, including Britain, and were also present in the east.  They used their own vernacular versions of the Scriptures and were strongly evangelistic in promoting the true faith.  They referred to themselves as Christians and members of the true church, in spite of the fact that other ‘names’ of identification were sometimes used by others in reference to them.”

 

 

-- Dan Mayfield

 

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