Maxey - Hughes Debate

Second Rebuttal
to the Second Proposition
by Al Maxey

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

First, let me extend to brother Hughes and his wife my sincere thankfulness that he and she are now feeling much better. You both were in our prayers for a full and speedy recovery. We serve a gracious and compassionate Father, and He has responded to those petitions. I hope and pray you don't have to go through an experience like that again any time soon!

As for being patient and tolerant to your "special circumstance," you have experienced "grace" from your opponent and readers. We knew what your heartfelt desire was in this matter, and we also knew you were prevented from acting upon that desire due to circumstances beyond your control, and thus, because we love you with the love of our Father, we extended grace to you rather than insisting on strict compliance with procedural rules and regulations. After all, love triumphs over law!

It was interesting, and somewhat amusing (though sad), to read Michael's attempt to apply his above "special circumstance" to his own theology of enforced, uncompromising legalism. He, somewhat "tongue-in-cheek," suggested, "I really do not need to write this article at all. I have intended to do it the entire last week and a half, however have been prevented from being able to do so by any number of circumstances completely and entirely beyond my control." Michael goes on to suggest, "Since my intentions were real and sincere and it was not my fault it is still just the same as though I had already written the article! .... In fact, I really didn't need to write it at all, because Al should have known what I was going to say and should have already written his response last week."

I appreciate my opponent's effort at logic, however if I was his professor I would have to grade him down for this attempt. He has failed to perceive the significance of the principle of "parallelism of points." In other words, for his analogy to be valid, the various points in his example need to truly parallel the reality he seeks to address. He has failed in this effort. Al Maxey is not God, thus Al Maxey cannot possibly perceive the concepts housed in the heart and mind of Michael Hughes which he fully intended to convey in his second affirmative.

Had I been able to do so, however, and Michael was truly intent upon conveying those particular concepts, but was prevented by circumstances beyond his control, I would have gladly penned those words for him and conveyed them to the readers, and then presented my next rebuttal. I would have done this for Michael because I love and respect him as a brother in Christ, and because I would have KNOWN that these were actually HIS words that he had already formulated within his heart and mind, but which he was prevented from actually writing due to circumstances beyond his control. Since I would have perfect perception into his heart and mind, I would gladly have done this for him. That is the nature of love and grace. That is what I would do because that is exactly what I believe my heavenly Father would do. That is what LOVE would do.

What I would NOT do is demand that the moderator of this debate declare Michael to be in default by virtue of failing to post his response in a timely fashion. What I would NOT do is declare Michael a loser in this exchange by virtue of his violation of some rule or regulation. I would evidence LOVE over LAW.

The problem, of course, is -- I am not God. I can't read his heart and mind, and thus I can't KNOW what he intended to write. However, I WAS able to perceive (due to private emails from my opponent) that Michael was experiencing special circumstances that prevented him from a timely response. Thus, what I WAS able to do for Michael was to evidence grace and mercy and compassion by extending the response time to accommodate his special circumstance. The moderator of this discussion was willing to do the same. Rather than enforcing LAW, we extended GRACE due to a situation beyond his control. We KNEW that Michael's heart was in the right place, and we KNEW that he was fully committed to responding, and we were confident that his response was being formulated within his heart and mind even though he was not able to put it into writing at the time. Thus, what kind of people would we be if we had terminated this exchange because he missed a deadline due to circumstances beyond his own control? That would NOT speak well of US, now would it? If we had declared him to be in default of this debate due to a technicality pertaining to a matter of hours in response time, he would likely be the first to scream "foul." And rightly so.

Our God CAN read our hearts and minds, however. He KNOWS whether we are intent upon immediately complying with His expectations and commands, or if we are simply stalling and making excuses to avoid compliance. I do NOT believe our God will extend mercy to those seeking a way to avoid obedience, but that He WILL extend mercy to those SEEKING TO OBEY and who were simply hindered by special circumstances beyond their own control. To suggest otherwise is to proclaim a God inferior to our own justice, fairness and compassion. We do not serve such a God. His ways are ABOVE our ways, not BENEATH them!

Michael spoke of a young man who was concerned about his uncle who had never obeyed the gospel. This man's uncle had apparently died in a fire before he ever evidenced a desire to obey. The young man seemingly blamed himself for not trying harder to bring his uncle to the point of conviction. That is an understandable emotion. I counseled with a man just this past week in a similar situation. His brother was dying of a brain tumor and he longed for him to accept Jesus Christ. He had repeatedly talked to him about Jesus, but his brother had never showed any interest. His brother died this past Wednesday. Would his brother perhaps one day have accepted Jesus if he had lived? Who knows? Twenty years down the road, perhaps he might have.

But, that is not the focus of our debate. I do NOT extend the hope of salvation to one who has died without any desire at all in his heart to obey the Lord .... but who MIGHT have in a few decades. That is not what we are discussing here. I would agree with Michael that these people have died without hope.

Michael wrote, "According to Al's doctrine I should have told him that things were fine, that God knew his uncle's heart and if he really would have responded to those verses then He was saved even though he didn't ever actually obey the gospel." No, brother Michael, that is NOT what I teach. I do NOT believe that what someone MIGHT do in a few DECADES, but who has never shown any desire to do NOW, will save them.

OUR discussion is with regard to one who HAS made the commitment to obey the Lord, and who IS actively seeking TO OBEY. We're NOT talking about one who MIGHT have obeyed at some point down the road if circumstances were different. We are talking about someone who IS SEEKING TO OBEY RIGHT NOW. They have come to that point of faith in Jesus Christ which compels them to confess His name and repent of their sins. They recognize the need to comply with His command to be immersed, and they are fully committed to doing so, and they IMMEDIATELY set out to obey. They are IN THE PROCESS OF OBEYING that command, but fall short of actual compliance due to a circumstance beyond their control (sudden death). This is a far cry from a situation in which we wonder what MIGHT have happened somewhere down the road with a person who dies apart from any desire to obey the Lord at the point of his death.

I do not believe our God will save someone based on an opportunity that MIGHT have come along in another 20 years. However, I DO believe our God will examine a person's heart AT THE MOMENT OF DEATH. If that person had no desire to obey the Lord at that point, then I believe that person is lost (regardless of what MIGHT have occurred in his heart and life had he lived another few weeks, months or years). On the other hand, if that person dies WHILE IN THE PROCESS OF OBEYING the Lord, that is a completely different scenario. That person WAS fully committed to complying with the command of his God, but was hindered from doing so by circumstances beyond his own control. In such a special circumstance I have no doubt whatsoever that we serve a God who will extend mercy, compassion, grace and love to this individual.

THIS is what our debate is about, Michael. You seem to keep forgetting this in your various proposed scenarios. Based on YOUR proffered scenarios, brother, we would have the following scenario in the example of Abraham and Isaac: Abraham is told to offer Isaac as an offering unto God. Two months pass, and he has done nothing. He says he intends to, but there are some things around the place that need fixed up first, and some of the sheep are ill and he needs to tend to them. It's cold outside, and that's a long trip, and so he'll put it off until warmer months. If Abraham had done this, even though he might have said he would do it "eventually," HE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED. However, Abraham immediately responded and set out to obey.

In the propositions before us, Michael, we have an individual who has SET OUT IMMEDIATELY TO OBEY. He knows what he must do, and he is wasting no time seeking to do it. There are no excuses, no delays, no arguments ... only a desire to obey, and to do so immediately. The question is simply this: will God's grace triumph over law in a special, and admittedly rare, circumstance where such a person dies unexpectedly while IN THE PROCESS OF OBEYING, but prior to actual completion of that process? If God is perfect LOVE, then the answer is YES. If God is perfect LAW, with no exceptions, then Michael may well be correct in declaring the answer to be NO. "God is love" (1 John 4:8). I'm still looking for the verse that says, "God is law."

I thought it was interesting that Michael acknowledges the following: "God gives exceptions to a number of things." This declaration is precedential, brother, and it tells us something of the nature of our God. It tells us that there are examples in Scripture where God has indeed MADE EXCEPTIONS to some of His laws. Michael admits this. Thus, he seemingly acknowledges that we serve a God who IS willing to set aside certain laws and requirements if a great good is served in some special circumstance in so doing. Where Michael is unwilling to bend, however, is in his conviction that this WILL NOT be evidenced with regard to baptism. He is seemingly unwilling to admit a single, solitary exception to THIS command in the history of the universe. He WILL admit to exceptions to OTHER commands of God due to special circumstances, BUT NOT THIS ONE. His "logic" for this assumption? -- God never SAID He would!! Well, brother Michael, let me ask you this: did God declare He would make exceptions in those OTHER areas where He made exceptions? Or, do we simply read of our gracious, compassionate, loving God ACTING in the best interests of those who are truly committed to Him?

Michael seems to think that unless God SAYS He will make an exception in the case of baptism, that HE WON'T. However, Michael admits that we serve a God who DOES make exceptions to His laws in special circumstances, and I believe Michael will discover that in at least some of those exceptions He had never declared previously that He would do so. Thus, we have precedent, do we not? The "bottom line" is really not the nature of law, but the nature of God!! What is the final arbiter of man's destiny -- law or love? Let's hope it is the latter, for if it isn't then we're all in a lot of trouble!!

Michael referred to the account of Jesus cursing the fig tree in Mark 11:12-14, 20-21. My opponent wrote, "We need to recognize that Al is arguing from the perspective that one is already right simply because his intent is good, but do you remember the fig tree? There was a tree that gave every appearance of being a good tree, yet it was without fruit. What happened? Was the appearance sufficient? If it were, then why did Christ curse it so that it withered and died?"

I hesitate to talk about "good intent" here with Michael, since he believed Nadab and Abihu also evidenced "good intent," however my opponent has equally misunderstood the nature of this particular fig tree, and thus missed the point of the account altogether. There are two basic kinds of figs in Palestine: Bicura and Kermus. The former is an early fig with large green leaves whose fruit ripens in May or June. The latter, also known as the "summer fig," doesn't ripen until August. We know from the context that the time of this incident with the fig was two months before the Bicura bore fruit, and a good five months before the Kermus bore fruit. Thus, Mark 11:13 is accurate in saying, "it was NOT the season for figs."

Something else to note about the fig tree: it puts out its fruit prior to the display of leaves. Thus, when a fig tree is "in leaf" (Mark 11:13) it is proclaiming it HAS produced fruit. Here, therefore, was a tree which PROFESSED much, but PRODUCED nothing! In other words, it claimed to be something it wasn't -- a fruit producing tree. However, when Jesus went up to the tree expecting to find fruit, "He found nothing but leaves" (Mark 11:13). This is, among other things, an object lesson on hypocrisy. It was a "fake, fickle fig," as one brother often characterized it.

Dr. Herbert Lockyer, in his book All The Miracles of the Bible, wrote, "This tree, by putting forth leaves, made pretensions to be something more than others, to have fruit upon it, since fruit appears before leaves. The tree, therefore, was punished not for being without fruit, but for proclaiming by the voice of those leaves that it had fruit; not for being barren, but for being false."

In the scenario we have before us in the propositions of this debate we are NOT looking at someone who makes a false profession of faith (this is not fake, fickle faith), but rather one who is genuine is his profession, and who has immediately set out to obey the complete will of his/her God with regard to immersion. There is no argument with the Lord by this person regarding baptism, but rather a sincere desire to comply, and to comply as quickly as possible.

The ONLY "special circumstance" involved in our scenario is that the person dies suddenly before actually completing the action he/she HAS IMMEDIATELY SET OUT TO OBEY. We are not looking at a false, fake, fickle heart, which professes one thing but intends another. Rather, we are focused upon the genuine heart who seeks only to obey, and to obey as quickly and fully as possible, but who is hindered by circumstances beyond his/her control. To suggest that LAW will be elevated above LOVE in such a special circumstance, and that our God (who has shown He WILL make exceptions in other special circumstances) will NOT make an exception so as to extend grace, mercy, compassion and love in this special circumstance, is to portray our God in a light that is contrary to the overall revelation of Scripture.

My opponent quoted my following statement: "Obedience to the Lord is a demonstration of a heart already committed to such obedience. Compliance flows from an established commitment of heart. The former will never truly occur without the latter."

After quoting my above remarks, Michael replied, "I have no disagreement with this statement. Never have." I am glad to hear him acknowledge this. He admits, then, that compliance with a command in actual fact flows from the heart already committed to such compliance, and that obedience in actual fact is truly and simply a visible "demonstration of a heart already committed to such obedience." Thus, if one obeys a command, it is clearly because that obedience has ALREADY occurred in the heart, and the compliance is simply a visible demonstration of the ALREADY PRESENT obedience OF ONE'S HEART. It was this, by the way, that Abraham possessed.

Thus, Michael believes that even though one may not have actually been immersed (having died one second prior to immersion), yet he would seemingly acknowledge that IN THE HEART that obedience WAS present, though as yet undemonstrated, in the commitment to obedience. However, Michael's contention is that the reality of the HEART is insufficient. One must actually complete the physical act or the former counts for NOTHING in the eyes of God. Even though God is a God who has made exceptions in other areas, He will NEVER, EVER make an exception in THIS area .... or, so claims Michael. Thus, a HEART fully committed to God, and which immediately sets out to obey completely, counts for nothing if the NOSE does not break the surface of the water. From such a doctrine of uncompromising LAW we are to perceive a God of LOVE and GRACE?!! Astounding!!

Michael stated that I believe "that commitment without compliance is sufficient." Again, Michael has exhibited a lack of comprehension of my true position. His above statement does not present the full picture. A genuine commitment of heart without actual physical compliance is sufficient ONLY .... and I repeat ONLY .... when a special circumstance exists which prevents, through no fault of the person involved, the actual completion of that act of compliance which had been immediately sought. We are talking about a person who without hesitation sets out to comply, and who was actively engaged in complying, but who was hindered from completing that compliance through no fault of his/her own. THAT is the "special circumstance" that we debate, brother Hughes. We are NOT talking about "salvation by faith only," as you suggested I believed (and with which you implied the Baptists would be thrilled). An exception to the rule is just that --- an exception to the rule! It is NOT a setting aside of the rule. You seem to have difficulty grasping this distinction.

Michael again drifts far afield from our limited propositions when he writes, "...then He would have to save the one that has died never having heard the gospel, because He knows that person would have obeyed if he had heard." This would indeed make a wonderful topic for debate, and I believe there are Scriptures where such a scenario is discussed, but this is NOT the topic of our debate, and indeed has nothing to do with it. We are not speaking of what MIGHT HAVE BEEN. We are speaking of WHAT IS. What MIGHT have occurred IF a person had heard is a totally different question than what is to be done with a person who HAS heard, and who HAS believed, and who HAS immediately set out to respond completely, but who has NOT been able to complete that process through no fault of his/her own. These are not even remotely the same scenario. If Michael would like to debate the former scenario, then let him suggest appropriate propositions and seek out an opponent. Until then, I would simply call him back to our present debate.

One final remark. I had referred Michael to our Lord's comment in Matthew 5:28 -- "Everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." I indicated that I believed the intent of the heart was considered as equal to the completed act in the sight of our Lord. My opponent wrote, "Jesus never says that adultery actually, literally occurred. He said that it occurred only in the heart." Yes, I agree. The difference is that one occurs in the heart, whereas the other is the actual physical acting upon that intent of heart. Our Lord suggests the intent is equal to the act, at least with respect to culpability. Michael seems to agree when he remarked, "The fact that there is no literal adultery occurring by the way does not negate the sin involved." Exactly! Sin existed in the INTENT. It most certainly would have been compounded, and the consequences (especially to others) more far-reaching, had the intent been acted upon, but the sin was present before the intent was carried out in actual, physical fact.

There is a principle here, Michael. "For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Our God judges HEARTS. When a heart is committed to an adulterous encounter with another, sin is imputed whether the intent is acted upon or not. And if one begins acting upon that intent (actually meeting the woman somewhere and beginning the process of undressing her) when death occurs, no one would deny that this deceased sinner had committed "adultery" (even though intercourse had not actually occurred).

Moving from the negative to the positive, when a heart is fully committed to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, when that heart has repented of its sins and confessed the name of Christ Jesus, when that person, from a willing heart, immediately begins the process of demonstrating that faith and commitment to the Lord by complying with the command to be baptized, and is even standing in the waters of the baptistery, but dies just seconds before being immersed, or who perhaps even dies after being plunged beneath the water but before the nose breaks the surface of the pool, then our God will judge the HEART of that person and their full commitment to immediate obedience as sufficient to salvation. Of this I have no doubt.

Once again, I declare unashamedly that to promote a God who would take such a one as described above and torture that person in hellfire without mercy and without end is to preach blasphemy against our loving Father. I urge Michael Hughes to carefully consider the "gospel" he proclaims. If that is truly the nature of the "good news," then we are all without hope, and our Father is an infinite abuser unworthy of worship.