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KC Moser - A Powerful Voice for Grace

by Al Maxey

Issue #392 ------- March 30, 2009
What we have learned from others
becomes our own by reflection.
Ralph Waldo Emerson {1803-1882}

Kenneth Carl Moser
A Powerful Voice for Grace

Every now and then, especially during those times when we have begun to lose our way, the Lord God will raise up a great man or woman to walk among us and inspire us and direct us back to that which is truly essential in the sight of our heavenly Father. Bro. K. C. Moser was just such a man called of God. Some have rightly characterized him the "Apostle of Grace" to the Stone-Campbell Movement during a time when legalistic patternism and perfectionism were wreaking great havoc within the rather recent (historically speaking), and still developing, Church of Christ branch of this larger faith-heritage. He was well ahead of his time in many ways, and, as a direct result, experienced some degree of affliction at the hands of those who did not appreciate his grace-centered, Christ-focused perspective. I regard him as a genuine "hero of faith."

Kenneth Carl Moser was born on a farm near Johnson City, Texas on January 23, 1893. He was baptized at the age of 19 in 1912 by his rather well-known (at least in Texas and Oklahoma) preacher/farmer father, J. S. Moser (1860-1923). At the age of only 17 he began teaching school in a little one room school house, which he did for about five years (from 1910 to 1915). He preached his first sermon that year (in 1915) at the age of 22. Moser then attended Thorp Springs Christian College, receiving his degree four years later in 1919. For the next several decades, K. C. Moser devoted his life to local preaching for Church of Christ congregations in Texas and Oklahoma. His writings were regularly featured within several brotherhood publications, and he served as a staff writer for the Gospel Advocate in 1933. From 1964 to 1972 he taught at Lubbock Christian College, serving as a member of the Bible faculty. "Despite his age, he was a popular, well-known and influential teacher at Lubbock Christian College. Moser retired from teaching in 1972, and he died in 1976 at the age of eighty-four" [Dr. John Mark Hicks, K. C. Moser and Churches of Christ: An Historical Perspective, Restoration Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 3, 1995]. Without a doubt, Bro. Moser's best-known work, and also his most controversial, was his book The Way of Salvation, which was published in 1932. In 1957 Moser released another book --- The Gist of Romans. Two well-known and widely-read pamphlets were --- Are We Preaching the Gospel? (1937) and Christ Versus the Plan (1952), both causing a significant stir among the much more conservative adherents of the Churches of Christ. "K. C. Moser's views were unpopular in some circles, and he suffered marginalization by the mainstream during the 1930s to 1950s. By the early 1960s, however, Moser had come to be seen as an influential leader among Churches of Christ" [The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, p. 546-547]. Bro. K. C. Moser was clearly a man "ahead of his time" with respect to some of the key theological concepts much needed within our movement.

What stirred up opposition against Bro. Moser the most was that through his preaching, teaching and writing, this man "led a renewal of grace-oriented teaching in Churches of Christ" [ibid, p. 546]. The Non-Institutional factions within our faith-heritage were especially infuriated by his call to elevate "the Man" above the "the plan," and they attacked him without mercy on a continual basis. Bro. Moser defined the "Gospel" Christologically -- i.e., his teaching was focused on a Person, rather than practices and patterns. He was determined to lead people to the Christ, rather than just to the Church of Christ. In his view, JESUS was the "Plan of Salvation," rather than a series of salvific steps performed by men to meet some regulatory requirement. Thus, Bro. Moser clearly "anticipated the 1960s 'Man or Plan' controversy" [ibid], firmly opting for the former, all to the tremendous displeasure of the legalistic patternists of Moser's own day. Indeed, even to this day he is vilified by these factionists. Dr. John Mark Hicks, from Harding University Graduate School of Religion, stated in 1995, "Sixty years after it was published, Moser's The Way of Salvation is still the object of attack," which "testifies to the enduring nature of Moser's book, its impact among the Non-Institutional segment of the Churches of Christ, and their unrelenting opposition to it" [K. C. Moser and Churches of Christ: A Theological Perspective, Restoration Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 4]. By the way, if any of you haven't yet done so, I would plead with you to please carefully examine this article (as well as the first article in the series mentioned above). It not only will provide you with fantastic insight into the thinking of K. C. Moser, but will serve to clarify some of the very issues challenging our movement today; issues I have been fighting the "good fight" against for several decades now.

"Moser's lifelong concern was to combat legalism" [Hicks, Restoration Quarterly, 37/4]. This he did in a bold and very uncompromising manner, and, as a direct result, "Moser has been identified as a starting point or, at least, an early reflection of a theological shift among the Churches of Christ on the doctrine of grace" [Hicks, Restoration Quarterly, 37/3]. Richard Hughes, in his work "Are Restorationists Evangelicals?", observed that through the ministry of K. C. Moser, "the theological face of Churches of Christ began to change." This was a change, in my view, that was greatly needed at that particular time, as the theology of our movement had been largely overtaken by a legalism that had blinded the leaders and members to the genuine nature of the Gospel. In a word, our forefathers within our faith-heritage were headed back to slavery to law. In every age Satan has sought to derail our journey toward freedom in Christ Jesus. The reality of salvation by grace through faith, and the good news of God's gift to lost mankind, is buried under humanly deduced and devised plans, the specific particulars of which must be scrupulously imposed upon others, and meticulously complied with, if one is to be saved. It subverts the Gospel and shipwrecks faith, and Bro. Moser, like the apostle Paul (and like many of us today), could not remain silent in the face of such deadly dogma.

K. C. Moser was convinced that legalism was blinding the eyes of the people to the truth that JESUS was the source of our eternal salvation, and that JESUS was indeed the Gospel message, rather than some listing of deeds that must be performed precisely in order to secure one's salvation. Thus, he believed many preachers were in effect subverting the Gospel by preaching a PLAN rather than the MAN. "From his own theological standpoint, the Churches of Christ were in danger of, if not already, succumbing to a subtle legalism" [Hicks, 37/4]. "Moser stated flatly that much of the preaching among Churches of Christ could not properly even be called gospel preaching," because this preaching "focused on the 'plan' -- on what people must do -- and not on Christ and His role as the sin-bearer" [C. Leonard Allen, Distant Voices: Discovering a Forgotten Past for a Changing Church, p. 163]. In his book on Romans, Bro. Moser made it clear that he personally was "set for the defense of the cross," and that he was strongly opposed to a defense of some set of "conditions of salvation." We are saved by grace through faith, and not of any effort on our own part [Ephesians 2:8-9], and thus Moser believed that too many were preaching our response to the Gospel as though our response was the Gospel itself.

"K. C. Moser feared that many of his preaching brothers did not truly or fully understand the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Moser was not alone in his fear. G. C. Brewer had expressed similar fears. He was concerned that many were preaching a creed instead of Christ." Both of these men "shared the burden of proclaiming the gospel of grace; both saw the danger of legalism; both saw the need for trusting in Christ alone for salvation" [Hicks, 37/3]. "Jesus Christ crucified for sinners IS the divine 'plan' of salvation," insisted Moser [Allen, p. 163]. "Moser was not alone in his pointed concerns. Another outspoken preacher who shared many of Moser's concerns was G. C. Brewer (1883-1957)" [ibid]. Bro. Brewer (who, as I have noted before, is my cousin) and Bro. Moser were good friends all of their lives, with the former often standing bravely at the side of the latter during times of severe personal affliction and persecution. It should be noted that "Moser and Brewer fully agreed on a basic point: 'The whole story of human redemption is comprehended in two words: "grace" and "faith." It is grace on God's part and faith on man's part'" [ibid, p. 164].

So, what about water baptism?! Was Moser suggesting that it has no function or purpose relative to our eternal destiny? Not at all. He merely suggested it should not be elevated to a level of preeminence for which our Lord never intended it. Both Moser and Brewer "spoke out against the 'plan' theory and called for a grace-centered message" [ibid, p. 165]. The PLAN listed various acts (often perceived by others as "works"), such as baptism, that one must not only comply with, but do so with a certain level of knowledge and understanding of its purpose, in order to receive salvation. Moser believed that his preaching brethren were elevating this Plan (with its several particulars) above the Man (Jesus Christ) as the basis for obtaining one's eternal salvation, and he believed this missed the whole point of the Gospel. Indeed, he declared it had nothing to do with the Gospel, but was merely one's response to the Gospel. "Christ did not direct people to a 'plan,' Moser insisted, but to Himself" [ibid, p. 166]. Moser asked the following: "If we are saved by a 'plan,' does this not make the 'plan' our savior? Is there life in a 'plan'? Is a 'plan' redemptive?! If Jesus died to give us a 'plan' by which to be saved, then it is not His death by which we are saved, but rather the 'plan' given by reason of His death" [ibid, p. 167]. "What this sinful world needs is not 'plans' and 'schemes,' but Christ" [ibid].

So, what was his view of immersion in water? It was his conviction, as it is mine, that "baptism is a required expression of faith," but it's an action that should not be made equal to faith. The former is merely an expression of the latter [Hicks, 37/4]. Whenever baptism "functions independent of faith (as in infant baptism) or as an equal to faith (as a rung on the ladder of legalistic justification), then it fails to function biblically" [ibid]. Moser lived during a time in our movement when "preaching the Gospel" typically signified preaching the five-step/finger "plan of salvation." If baptism was ever left out of a sermon, then, in the view of many, the "Gospel" had not been truly preached. For Moser, Brewer, and a growing number of other leaders within our movement, this was a woeful failure to grasp the true nature of the Gospel message. "Faith, repentance, and baptism are responses to the gospel, but they are not constitutive of the gospel itself. The gospel is God's saving action, not ours. It is the shed blood of Jesus as a propitiation for our sins. Faith, repentance, and baptism cannot share in that propitiation. They can only receive it" [ibid]. Too many preachers at that time (as well as today) were viewing baptism "as the final step in a series of commandments ... the supreme work which itself changes the sinner into a saint" [ibid]. Although Moser taught that baptism was essential as a required expression of the legitimacy of one's faith in God's gracious gift of salvation, he rejected the misconception, as do I, that it was THE ACT that saved. Salvation is not conditioned upon one's nose breaking the surface of the waters of the baptistery on the way up. That is a return to LAW and WORKS and MERIT, and Moser would have no part of it.

Needless to say, his convictions did not go over well with the ultra-conservatives and legalistic patternists of his day (just as they do not go over well with that bunch even to this very day). Many of the same criticisms that I have heard (as have other grace-centered preachers), Moser also heard. "He knew firsthand the ferocity of a brotherhood's displeasure" [Hicks, 37/3]. Thus, "when Moser began to talk about faith as the principle of salvation, and when he subordinated baptism to faith, he was quickly interpreted as siding with the Baptists" [Hicks, 37/4]. "As a preacher, Moser was hounded by others for his views on grace. As a lecturer, he was persona non grata at various religious events, such as the Abilene Christian College lectureships. As a writer, he was either attacked or ignored. As a teacher, he was known as the 'Baptist preacher' on the Lubbock faculty" [Hicks, 37/3]. Foy Wallace, Jr., a caustic critic of Bro. Moser, attacked him for "indoctrinating young preachers with denominational error on the plan of salvation." "Moser was regarded as a Baptist in sheep's clothing, and was ostracized by his preaching brothers in Texas" [Hicks, 37/3].

"His writing and teaching brought sharp -- and sometimes devastating -- opposition. According to one of his daughters, the many attacks he received in the 1930s severely affected his health. Beginning about 1932 Moser began suffering from what was later diagnosed as ulcerative colitis. By 1935 it had grown so severe that his wife felt that he was going to die. His daughter later wrote of these years -- 'I was the baby sister that everyone protected, and though I was painfully aware that my father was a very sick man most of my growing up years, I did not really know why until I was grown and understood the deep, personal wounds that my father had received'" [Allen, p. 168]. One simply cannot help but think of the apostle Paul, who spoke of his own afflictions and sufferings at the hands of "false brethren." He spoke of "sleepless nights" and "the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches" [2 Cor. 11:27-28]. As both Paul and Moser could testify: standing up to legalism can be a very physically, emotionally and even spiritually draining experience. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. Yet, "despite the problems his convictions caused, Moser could NOT be quiet. He had to speak despite the fear which keeps others quiet -- the fear of being 'put out of the synagogue'" [Hicks, 37/3].

Thank God for devoted servants (both men and women) like K. C. Moser, who are more than willing to stand for Truth over tradition, Grace over law, Freedom in Christ over bondage, and who are willing to boldly take this stand regardless of the personal cost. Thank God also for those brave souls who were, and are, willing to stand with them in this "good fight." For example, although many criticized Moser's book The Way of Salvation, "G. C. Brewer, on the other hand, had almost nothing but praise for the book. One year after it was published, G. C. Brewer wrote an article entitled 'Read This Book.' In fact, he suggested that it be read 'two or three times'" [ibid]. "Further, Brewer commended Moser for going to Scripture first instead of first searching for what is taught among Churches of Christ then going about to establish it by Scripture. Brewer wrote: 'The author's independence of all denominational views or brotherhood ideas, or of what the "fathers" taught, or what has been "our doctrine," is the most encouraging thing that I have seen in print among the disciples of Christ in this decade'" [ibid].

Although there was a significant period of time when the work of Bro. K. C. Moser was not appreciated by many within our movement, that soon changed, and this beloved man became an inspiration to many who were, and still are, seeking responsible change within Churches of Christ. His was "a message of grace in a time when the church was struggling to determine which segment of the conservative wing of the Restoration Movement was the true church. It was a breath of fresh air in a time of institutional squabbling and fighting" [ibid]. "As the years passed, the insistent call to focus on Christ rather than a 'plan' gradually found a more receptive audience. As Moser, G. C. Brewer, and a few others pressed the matter, a growing number of church members began rethinking the traditional formulation of the gospel. The efforts of Moser, Brewer, and these others stand directly behind some of the theological shifts that have been occurring among contemporary Churches of Christ" [Allen, p. 169]. Thank you, Bro. Moser, for your inspiring life of commitment to the Man, rather than to a plan, for it is only in the former that we truly have Good News of a Gift of Grace that Saves!! [Bonus --- Click Here to listen to a sound recording of a sermon given by K. C. Moser just a few months prior to his death]

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