January 23, 2003
Some time back a young preacher named Brian Yeager wrote to an Internet Bible discussion group: "Al Maxey has been marked as a liberal by the Director of the Memphis School of Preaching in his book." In point of fact, Curtis Cates (the MSOP Director to whom Brian alluded) devoted two pages (pages 64-65) in his book, A Comprehensive Study of Unity, to exposing my "error." He begins by declaring, "Al Maxey, another change agent, is ...." Some have written and asked me if I would be willing to comment on this charge by Cates. I would be happy to do so.
Cates' evaluation of me is not from personal experience or observation. He has never met me or spoken to me. We've never even exchanged e-mails. In fact, I didn't know he had "written me up" until long after his book came out. His whole characterization of me was based on a single article (and I have had numerous articles published) which appeared years ago in IMAGE Magazine (and about which he never inquired of me personally).
Yes, IMAGE (which is no longer in publication) had a reputation among some in the Churches of Christ as a "very liberal" publication. And, as you might imagine, others in the Churches of Christ disagreed with that assessment. I suppose every publication has both supporters and critics. Many view Contending for the Faith as one of the most "hate-filled" publications in the brotherhood; others see it as a "servant of God for defending the faith." Labels often reflect much more about the one doing the labeling than about that which is being labeled. I personally tend to think most labels are far too inflammatory, are used far too frequently and thoughtlessly, and thus really serve no positive purpose.
I have been labeled a "change agent." But, what exactly does that mean?! What am I supposedly changing? This is another example of a label that is often just thoughtlessly thrown out, with the implication clearly being: This man is dangerous, AVOID him like the plague! And yet many people, if asked what it is that makes Al Maxey sooooo dangerous, probably wouldn't have a clue. On an Internet Bible discussion group a year or so back, one woman wrote in and said, "If Al Maxey is a member of this group, I am unsubscribing!" Someone wrote and asked her what was wrong with Al Maxey. She couldn't think of anything specific, but stated: "Well, Bro. Cates said in his book that he was a 'change agent,' so it must be true!" And just what IS a "change agent," dear sister? "I'm not really sure! But, if Bro. Cates said he IS one, it must be BAD!"
Most, I'm guessing, would probably define a "change agent" as one who was seeking to CHANGE the church from what JESUS would have it to be, into something radically different (what the change agent would have it to be). Thus, change agents are supposedly seeking to recreate the church in their OWN image (and, in so doing, DESTROY it). I can assure you that I have no desire whatsoever to do such a thing. There is only ONE CHURCH, and it is the one established by our Lord Jesus Christ. HE is the Head, and it is created in HIS image! He has clearly told us what He expects this ONE BODY to be, and for ME to set that aside in favor of what AL MAXEY would have the church to become would be heresy and apostasy!! I would never do that. It is HIS church, not MINE.
So, WHY am I being called a "change agent" by some? After all, "where there's smoke there's fire!" Right?! Sadly, this is a term that has been used frequently as a "fear tactic." "Change Agent" conveys images to one's mind of a servant of Satan determined to destroy the church and all it stands for. To label one a "change agent" is to immediately mark him as the ENEMY. The "faithful" will then avoid such a one, and thus not be tainted by his/her heresy. It is also, unfortunately, a tactic used by some to negatively stigmatize a person with whom they disagree on some "issue" so as to prevent those under their leadership from further association with such a person, and thus safeguard them from the "danger" of being exposed & contaminated by these differing ideas. Thus, in reality, "change agent" often signifies little more than "one with whom I differ" -- "someone with an opinion or practice other than my own" -- and, of course, since MY WAY is the ONLY WAY, anyone who differs with ME is an agent of CHANGE!! ..... and thus an agent of SATAN!!
Brethren, Truth has absolutely nothing to fear from any challenge to it, or from honest, in-depth, "Berean spirit" investigation. We should never be reluctant to take any doctrine or practice to God's Word and examine it in the light of the source to SEE if these things be so!! The Bereans did this, and were commended for their noble spirit. One thing I have tried to do throughout my almost 30 years of full-time ministry is CHALLENGE every doctrine and practice we hold dear in the Lord's church .... and to motivate the members of the congregations I've served to challenge them also. NOT for the purpose of undermining or destroying the church, or these doctrines & practices, but for the purpose of VERIFYING them from God's inspired Word. I want people to KNOW firsthand WHY they believe what they believe and WHY they practice what they practice, instead of just parroting what the preacher says or what they have always heard.
This has caused some to criticize me. They have told me that one should NEVER question what we do in the church; these "truths and practices" were good enough for our forefathers, thus they should be good enough for US. If THEY didn't have a problem with them, neither should WE!! Consequently, by seeking to establish & validate my faith from the words of my heavenly Father, rather than the words of my earthly forefathers, I have been on occasion severely rebuked by the "church powers."
I have challenged a great many of the things I have been taught over the years, and guess what --- when I went to the Word to verify them, I came away even more convinced than ever before that the majority of what I have been taught is indeed TRUTH!! If Truth IS Truth, it is easily verifiable from God's Word. Today my faith rests upon what GOD has said, not upon what I had been TOLD He said. Thinking, questioning, checking, searching, is not always popular among those who believe they already HAVE all the answers, and don't want those answers challenged. For example, I began to teach a class in one congregation several years ago on a subject that was somewhat controversial (at the request of one of the elders), and one woman spoke up and said, "I already know what I believe on this subject, we don't need to go to the Bible to see what it says." That's a dangerous attitude, and one which, sadly, is far too common among God's people.
I'm not afraid to examine and RE-examine ANYTHING I believe and practice .... and I am not afraid to CHANGE if I am shown to be wrong (thus, I guess I AM in favor of "change" ... and least, THIS kind of change!! Responsible change!!). I have changed before, and I will undoubtedly change again. Why? Because I DON'T know it all .... I AM fallible .... and thus I CAN be wrong. I admit that freely, and thus I keep on questioning, searching and researching, and seeking to be more and more true to His Word, as best as I can understand it.
Some of my study and research has led me to the point where I have had to acknowledge (and it was often with reluctance, and even some fear, because I knew the consequences I would face from my brethren) that some of my personal beliefs and practices (and some of those within the churches of Christ) were really far more TRADITION than TRUTH. This does not mean that the belief or practice was necessarily wrong or sinful, or even that it should be abandoned .... it just means it needs to be viewed in a somewhat different perspective than before. For example, when I was much, much younger (just a kid) I believed that REoffering the Lord's Supper at the Sunday night assembly was commanded by God; that if you missed it on Sunday morning then you had better get to "the church" that night and "make it up." I later learned that the Sunday evening REoffering of the Lord's Supper was simply a tradition. That doesn't necessarily make it sinful, nor does it mean it should be dropped from our practice (although I have my thoughts about that), but it means that I have now lowered it from its former level of LAW and have placed it in its proper perspective (it's merely a tradition of men). I CHANGED in my thinking and beliefs.
It is THIS kind of thing that has caused me to "run afoul" of some of my brethren. Some of what I personally have come to realize is more tradition than Truth, THEY still regard to be Truth. Thus, I am perceived as the ENEMY, and have been called such (and worse). A former president of a Christian university wrote me in Hawaii several years ago and urged in no uncertain terms: "Get out of MY church and go start your OWN!!" Why? Because he and I had differed in a public forum over the issue of instrumental music in worship. Thus, as a result of our differing perspectives, I needed to be cast from "his" church! This is unfortunate, and a real tragedy for the Body of Christ, because MANY good brothers and sisters in Christ are being so labeled for daring to think and question, and if their studies lead them to conclusions other than the "right ones" (the traditional ones), they are condemned and castigated.
In the final analysis, I am merely a disciple seeking to better understand my Lord and His will for my life; I am a disciple with a "Berean spirit," one who is unafraid to CHANGE in order to live more closely to revealed TRUTH (as best as I am able to understand it). If that makes me a change agent, then I guess I have to plead guilty as charged.
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