In 1946 Roy Key of Juneau, Alaska, caused a small stir with his article “The Righteousness of God” in the January 24 issue of the Gospel Advocate. It promoted “some ideas,” one reader wrote, that he “not been accustomed to hearing.” As a result, G. C. Brewer took up his pen to commend the article as substantially summarizing the Pauline teaching of the “righteousness of God” (Gospel Advocate [7 March 1946] 224+).
Apparently the phrase “not been accustomed to hearing” caught Brewer’s attention since it was his own experience that many were “astonished at this teaching” and others were “offended by it at first.” Indeed, Brewer was concerned about both the ignorance and the “false teaching” present among the churches concerning Paul’s gospel of God’s righteousness.
As a younger preacher Brewer had encountered ministers who denied the concept of imputed righteousness. He summarized the teaching of one of these ministers, whom he highly respected, as this:
“You hear people talk about God’s righteousness or Christ’s righteousness being imputed to a man–of the righteousness of Christ covering a man like a garment, etc. This is all false doctrine. The Bible says, ‘He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous’ (1 John 3:7); and David says, ‘All thy commandments are righteousness.’ So you see that a man who does the commandments of God is righteous–no one else is. You can have no righteousness except the righteousness that you do.”
One would only need to read the Gospel Advocate in the 1940s and beyond to hear the same sentiments in the writings of some prominent writers such as Guy N. Woods and others, particularly in the Texas Tradition. In his younger years fully Brewer embraced this teaching. He bought the party line as he was exposed to it and helped to promote it. He taught the same message and used the same Scriptures to defend it.
However, he “learned the truth on this point by studying Paul” when he began to study Romans to see what it teaches rather than studying “to find something to offset what someone else teaches.” Brewer underwent a theological change from a legalistic concept of faith–a faith where we have no righteousness except our own so that we contribute to the righteousness that achieves for us a righteous standing before God by measuring up to the plan God has given us–to an affirmation of the divine righteousness which is given to us through faith–the righteousness that God himself gives, the gift of righteousness that does not arise from within us or on the ground of our obedience. It was a change from a legalism of works-righteousness to a Pauline doctrine of grace through faith.
Brewer noted that many of his contemporaries had made a similar change. They had begun in legalism but learned to teach a doctrine of righteousness by faith and “not by doing.” As if to counter the charge that his teaching was innovative, Brewer reminded his readers that J. W. McGarvey, E. G. Sewell, T. W. Caskey, David Lipscomb and James A. Harding “knew the truth on this great question and taught it faithfully.” “Harding,” he added, “was especially strong on this doctrine.”
Brewer’s article recognizd a cleavage in the Stone-Campbell Movement over the doctrine of grace. One segment focuses on the righteousness which a person achieves by doing and another segment focuses on the righteousness which God grants a person by faith. It was a cleavage evident in early 1930s when the Gospel Advocate published K. C. Moser’s The Way of Salvation. This book was embraced by Brewer as “one of the best little books that came from any press in 1932” (Gospel Advocate [11 May 1933] 434), but was rejected by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. as full of “denominational error on the gospel plan of salvation” (Present Truth [Ft. Worth, TX: Foy E. Wallace Publications, 1977] 1037). These two contrasting attitudes to Moser’s book illustrate two distinct approaches to the “righteousness of God.” The former belonged to the Tennessee Tradition rooted in the Nashville Bible School. The latter belonged, in large part, to the Texas Tradition. Unfortunately, it is a cleavage that continues to exist.
In 1952, Brewer gave a speech at the Abilene Lectures which J. D. Thomas regarded as a turning point in the history of Texas churches on grace. Thomas had invited him because of his known position and Thomas himself had been directly influenced by K. C. Moser whom Brewer had supported as the “brotherhood” tried Moser in the fire. Brewer revisited his emphasis that salvation by was “faith” and not by “doing.” This was his primary point at the 1952 Abilene Christian College Lectureship (Abilene Christian College Bible Lectureship [Firm Foundation Publishing Co., 1952], 112-114). God’s part is giving, not selling; and man’s part is believing, not doing. Salvation is “not a matter of law;” a matter of doing or achieving or working. We are free from law, any law, because God has “offered us a righteousness which comes to us on account of our faith in Christ Jesus.” To affirm otherwise is to render void the grace of God in Christ. If “we are just as righteous as we do–that is, if we have no righteousness but our own, which we achieve by doing the commandments–by observing laws–we make the death of Christ unnecessary” (Gospel Advocate, 1946, 224).
The “doing” which Brewer rejects in the context of Churches of Christ is measuring up to God’s “plan of salvation” which is effectively a new law which one must work in order to be saved. Brewer once received a question from an Advocate reader concerning the place of confession in the “plan of salvation” who wanted to know if the “plan” had “four steps or three,” and if one “dies following baptism without confession with the mouth, what will Jesus do on the judgment day about it?” Brewer immediately commented on the prominence of the idea of a “plan” in the mind of the reader (Autobiography, 91-93):
He is not alone in this manner of thinking, either. Some of us have observed this in the writing and preaching of some of our young preachers. It is hoped that the attention of these fine brethren will be attracted to this article, and that the point here will be given serious thought by them . . . there seems to be a tendency on the part of some to think of this “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, 16:26) as a ritual, a legalistic rite, a ceremony comparable to the “divers washings” or purification processes of the Mosaic Law. This is a grievous mistake. To put stress upon a “plan” and the specific items and steps of that plan may lead to a wrong conclusion. We are saved by a person, not by a plan; we are saved by a Savior, not by a ceremony. Our faith is in that divine personage–that living Lord–and not in items and steps and ordinances. We are saved through faith in Christ and on account of our faith in Christ, and not because of a faith in a plan. Sometimes we are led to fear that some people only have faith in faith, repentance, confession and baptism. . . We must trust his grace and rely upon his blood and look for and expect his healing mercy. To trust a plan is to expect to save yourself by your own works. It is to build according to a blueprint; and if you meet the specifications, your building will be approved by the great Inspector! Otherwise you fail to measure up and you are lost! You could not meet the demands of the law! You could not achieve success!
Brewer called his readers to re-examine their doctrine of God’s righteousness in the light of Romans and Galatians. He offered this prayer, “May the Lord forgive us all and let his righteousness not only supply our lack of righteousness, but also our lack of understanding of his word!” He counseled his readers, “Christ alone can save us. Trust him, brother” (Gospel Advocate, 1946, 224).
If you are interested in reading Key’s original 1946 articles and Brewer’s endorsement article, click here.