Maxey - Hughes Debate

Third Affirmative
to the First Proposition
by Al Maxey

Thursday, October 3, 2002

I will seek to be brief in this final affirmation of my proposition, but my opponent has asked many questions and raised a number of concerns that need to be addressed. First, he assumes my following remark is "an appeal to the emotionally absurd" --- "God seemingly puts more significance on a wet body than a willing heart." Is it absurd or emotional to seek to understand where our God places the greater emphasis: on actions or attitudes?

"For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6). "Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? ... He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:7-8). Is it emotionally absurd to think God may place greater weight upon a contrite heart and a faithful resolve to obey than the precise practice of some ritual (if in fact one is prevented from carrying out that resolve)?

David understood where the focus of God truly lay. As he asked that the "joy of Thy salvation" be restored to him, and as he poured out his heart in true repentance, he declared, "Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" (Psalm 51:16-17). It was not the sacrifices and rituals that ultimately gained one his restoration and salvation, it was a sincere HEART turned fully to God. And there is a promise here --- such a heart God will not despise! In other words, even without the sacrifices and offerings (given special circumstances), the forgiveness and salvation would still be granted. Based upon what? A heart truly given over to the Lord. "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).

Was David being emotional and absurd? He was certainly the former, but in no way was he the latter. It is not being absurd, but rather very biblical, to declare that God's focus is far more upon the internal than the external, or, to phrase it in terms relevant to our debate, upon a willing heart rather than a wet body. Is baptism unimportant? Of course not. Neither were the offerings and sacrifices under the Law unimportant. But in the final analysis it was the nature of the HEART that was the true focus of the Father. The actions of the penitent believer were merely visible displays of the saving faith they had in their hearts. To suggest that one is eternally lost if a DISPLAY of faith is not completed, even though the heart is committed both to God and to the completing of that active display of faith, is to place greater weight on the display than on the faith itself. I believe that is blatantly contrary to biblical teaching.

Our God declares, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). The important thing to notice here is that His thoughts and ways are HIGHER than man's, NOT LOWER. Michael freely admits in his 2nd rebuttal that it is reasonable to think a willing heart would be acceptable to God. It is rational, and it makes sense. However, he then refers us to the above passage to indicate that God's ways are not ours. No, Michael, they are not. But they most certainly are not BENEATH what would be loathsome and abhorrent and contrary to reason & sound judgment & justice anywhere on the face of the earth. His ways are HIGHER than ours, not LESS compassionate or merciful or just or loving.

Michael wrote, "Is Al offended by my theology only because I express the revealed will of the Father?" What IS the revealed will of the Father, brother? "The Lord ... is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Our Father loved us so much that He gave His unique, one of a kind Son on the cross in our place, so that "whoever believes may in Him have eternal life," and not face destruction (John 3:15-16). If a man genuinely possesses this deep faith, and if he comes to repentance, and is intent upon immediately seeking to demonstrate that faith and repentance in the act of immersion, but dies suddenly prior to completion of that which he has set out with all his heart to accomplish, then I serve a Father who WILL run and embrace that child who has turned from the pigpen and is headed for home, even "while he was still a long way off" (Luke 15:20). THAT is the revealed nature of the Father I worship and serve. He doesn't sit on the porch waiting for those last few feet to be walked and for every last word of contrition to be uttered and for every penitent act to be performed. Rather, when he first beholds that transformed heart headed for home, he runs to embrace the child before he ever gets there!!! THAT is MY Father, Michael.

Michael wrote, "You have not yet shown a scripture that provides an exception to the scripture requirement" for a person to be immersed. If such a passage existed we would not be having this debate. Our discussion centers around our respective views of the nature of our Father in a very special circumstance. Which has the greater governance over His dealings with penitent believers --- law or love? Commandment or compassion? The Father I have come to know is characterized by the latter. Michael apparently perceives Him as the former.

My opponent writes, "He then cites three 'examples' that I suppose are intended to support his argument, yet have absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever." On the contrary, brother. Each example shows the nature of our Lord in evidencing love over law, acceptance over exclusion, compassion over commandment. With regard to the woman taken in adultery, Michael says, "Jesus did NOT 'not condemn' her." Oh, really?! Look at what Jesus says to her, "Neither do I condemn you" (John 8:11). Yes, Michael, Jesus showed compassion, and He extended mercy. This is the nature of deity, and it is evidenced throughout Scripture.

Michael wrote, "He asks about the one who had been plunged beneath the water, but whose nose had not yet broken the surface of the water. ... He also asks about one that died before being lowered into the water. In both cases this is nothing more than a base appeal to the emotions." Actually, this is an appeal to the very proposition we are debating, Michael. Yes, I have painted a somewhat more extreme picture, but one no less represented by the premise of the proposition (which speaks of unexpected death prior to actual compliance of one fully intent upon immediately complying). Whether missed by one second or one hour, the proposition nevertheless stands, although certainly less time would prove more emotionally charged to those witnessing the event. Once again my opponent refers us to the Isaiah 55 passage; once again I would remind him that our God's ways are not BENEATH man's, but rather HIGHER! Nobler! Thus, they will prove MORE merciful and compassionate and just, not LESS.

I asked Michael if he would extend grace to either of the two persons in my illustration. Not surprisingly, he was reluctant to give the answer we all know he holds (since, after all, that answer IS given in the second proposition which he has affirmed). He wrote, "Well, brother Maxey my response is this. Grace is not mine to either extend or to withhold." I call upon our readers to remember this statement when it comes time for Michael to affirm his proposition (in which grace IS withheld).

Brother Hughes wrote, "He doesn't like that James says that Abraham offered Isaac. I am simply not going to get into a quibble about this. James said he was offered. Al says that because he wasn't actually sacrificed then he was not offered." Once again, Michael has misrepresented my view of this event and passage. Yes, James declares (James 2:21) that Abraham "offered up" Isaac. It doesn't take much of an OT exegete, however, to determine that the "offering up" was only completed IN HIS HEART. In point of fact, Abraham never actually completed the actual, literal offering itself. It WAS completed in his heart, though. Whether the offering was physically completed, however, was not the issue. The issue is --- Abraham's BELIEF was what elicited the favorable response of God (James 2:23). Yes, it was a FAITH Abraham immediately set out to DEMONSTRATE, and it was that ACTED UPON FAITH (even though physically incomplete) that gained for this man the favor of deity.

As I pointed out in my first affirmative (and which, to his credit, Michael did quote), "A command of God not obeyed is still a command from God not obeyed." A command was issued to Abraham, and it is a fact of biblical history that he did NOT complete that command AS GIVEN. The only place that command was truly completed was in his heart. And it was THIS that secured for Abraham the blessed favor of his Lord.

In an attempt to lend credence to his own position that God at times slaughters without mercy those with "good intent," he mentions the examples of Nadab & Abihu, Uzzah, and Uzziah. He writes, "All of these were individuals who had good intentions, were wanting to please God, yet everyone of them died. Why?" My response would be that these were NOT cases of individuals with "good intent." Quite the contrary. In my proposition we have an individual with genuine faith seeking to correctly & fully obey a command of God. In Michael's examples, however, we see people in direct opposition to God's will. For example, I think there is a great deal of evidence to show that Nadab and Abihu were drunk, that they took coals/fire from a location OTHER than the one prescribed by God, that they showed lack of reverence for deity, and that they entered the Holies of Holies when they were forbidden to do so. This is not even remotely a case of "good intent." I have done studies of each of these cases in years past, and I disagree with Michael that these are examples of "good intent" where God slaughtered those whose hearts were in the right place. Far from it. There is no parallel here to the individual in our proposition.

Brother Hughes, I can identify with your situation regarding your son-in-law. My youngest son is currently engaged to a Baptist girl, and we too have had some very in-depth talks about baptism. In the case of your son-in-law, you seem to indicate he acknowledged being "taught wrong," and yet chooses to stay with the result of that teaching. If one is taught wrongly, then one has most likely responded wrongly. Thus, I would NOT affirm him in his intent, because he seems to admit understanding incorrectly the whole purpose of his previous baptism. If that is the case, and if he has now come to a knowledge of the true significance of this act, and he now refuses to submit, then that is a matter entirely separate from the spirit of our proposition. Our proposition assumes one DOES properly understand the purpose and place of immersion, and has immediately set out to fully comply. The special circumstance before us is one of unexpected death just prior to completion of the act to which this person's heart was fully committed, it is not a matter of ignorance or willful refusal to act on a correct understanding.

This leads me to the final point I would like to make in my series of three affirmations to the first proposition. At the end of my brother's last rebuttal he made the following appeal to the readers:

Perhaps Michael leads a somewhat sheltered existence, but such occurrences do happen. Over the last several years I have heard of several such incidents. However, I didn't have the verifiable data requested by Michael, and certainly had no intention of asking him (or the readers) to simply take my word for it.

Many who take Michael's position, however, are quick to suggest or imply that God would never allow such a thing to happen. "It's just UNHEARD of," or so goes the argument. Thus, the implication is that our entire debate is somewhat moot.

Our God works in mysterious ways!! I would like to share with the readers, and with Michael, something that happened to me while I was awaiting Michael's second rebuttal. About a week or so ago I received a phone call from the preacher in Moriarty, NM (brother John Booth). I have known John and his family for many years, and he is a truly devoted servant of the Lord. A couple happened to be passing through town (they were from east Texas, I believe) and they stopped at the church building and visited with John for a while. During the course of the conversation they just happened to mention our debate, Michael. John was not aware that we were having one, and actually thought it was scheduled to be held here in Alamogordo. So he called me to see when this debate was to take place.

In the course of our conversation I happened to mention your above request. He told me that such an event had occurred just a few weeks ago, and that it had happened to his brother-in-law (I believe that is the correct family relationship of Joe to John). He gave me the details, and I followed up on it. That person has since contacted me and provided the information of this most touching incident. Should you desire the email addresses of either of these men, Michael, I will provide them to you privately upon request so that you may confirm the truthfulness of this account, if you so desire.

It happened in late August in Searcy, Arkansas to Dr. Joe Brumfield (a professor of Bible at Harding). He wrote to me (in an email dated Sept. 26, 2002), "John Booth asked that I tell you about a man that I was going to baptize a few weeks ago. Tom called and asked me to baptize his dad." Joe got to the man's house at 8:15 a.m. The man was not feeling well, but indicated he was ready to be immersed.

Joe then writes to me, "We couldn't get him into the car because he was such a large man, so we lifted him in his wheel chair into the back of my truck. Tom rode in the back with his dad, and we drove to Westside Church of Christ (in Searcy) for the baptism. We arrived and I parked under the awning while I went inside and got my friend James Anderson to help us get him up the stairs. Tom came running in and said, 'Call 911. I think my dad just died.' The ambulance crew came and pronounced him dead at the scene. He died in the back of my truck, just a few feet from the water." With regard to this man's sincerity of heart, Joe writes, "Was this man sincere? I don't know. God does, and God will decide."

IF the man was NOT sincere in his heart, then he was just on his way to "get wet" (for whatever reasons). I personally would extend no hope to such a one whose heart is not genuinely converted to the Lord. However, IF the man WAS sincere in his desire to be immersed, and WAS genuine in his intent to demonstrate that faith in immersion, then God indeed will decide this man's fate. And it is MY conviction that the genuineness of his faith and his intention to act upon it will be given greater weight by my Father than the fact that he died in the back of a truck just "feet from the water." Why do I have such a conviction? Because of the nature of my God, and the nature of His grace!!

With this post I conclude my threefold affirmation of the first proposition. I affirm that proposition based upon my perception of my Father and his gracious dealings with penitent believers as revealed in His inspired Word. Praise God for His matchless, amazing grace!!