by Al Maxey

Issue #107 ------- February 21, 2004
And were an epitaph to be my story
I'd have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover's quarrel with the world.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

"A Lover's Quarrel"
A Reflective Review of a
Recent Reformer's Retrospection

Every so often God bestows a special gift upon His beleaguered people. That gift is a very special soul, enlightened and equipped by the Spirit, who, often at great personal sacrifice, leads his beloved fellow disciples in much needed reform. There have been many such special "lights" pushing back the darkness over the centuries. One of those, who still walks among us, is Leroy Garrett. I have never been blessed with the honor of meeting this man face to face, but he has challenged and inspired me for many years with his writings and by the courageous example of his life. For years I reflected deeply upon the thoughts contained in his Restoration Review, which he published faithfully for many decades. His monumental, now classic, 739 page history of our heritage -- The Stone-Campbell Movement: An Anecdotal History of Three Churches -- helped me to perceive our purpose far more than I ever had previously.

My "connection" with the Garrett family was through Leroy's younger brother Bill, who attended the congregation in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I preached for eight years, and who was very supportive of my feeble efforts, at that time fledgling, to proclaim the need for responsible reform among the people of God. In more recent years, and especially through my growing Reflections ministry, I have sought to impact others through my writings, as brother Leroy Garrett has so successfully done for so many years. Imagine my surprise a few months back, and the tremendous encouragement that filled my heart, when brother Garrett emailed me to encourage my efforts at reform through these Reflections.

I am certainly not naive enough to think that this suggests brother Garrett agrees with and endorses my every teaching -- indeed, I'm sure he does not -- nevertheless, he and I are very much of the same heart and mind when it comes to our desire to see God's family unified. Like this faithful reformer, I have devoted my life to doing all in my power to help bring down the sectarian walls that divide spiritual siblings. It is my prayer that more and more of my brethren will join this noble effort; it is my hope they will find inspiration and courage to step forward when examining the lives of such men as Leroy Garrett. "Remember your leaders who have spoken God's message to you; and as you observe their manner of life, imitate their faith" (Hebrews 13:7 -- from brother Hugo McCord's New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel).

Leroy Garrett has aided us in this quest to observe his "manner of life" by the recent release of his autobiography, which is entitled appropriately: A Lover's Quarrel -- My Pilgrimage of Freedom in Churches of Christ. I received my own autographed copy of this book from brother Garrett a few weeks ago, and I literally had difficulty putting it down! It was a fascinating journey into his life, through his own eyes. If you don't yet have a copy, I would urge you to purchase one. You may get your copy from the publisher -- ACU Press -- for only $14.95. You may do this online at or you may call them at 1-800-444-4228 (toll free) or 1-325-674-2720.


A Lover's Quarrel is an autobiography. Thus, the author spends considerable time within this 302 page book sharing with the reader the particulars of his early years and the impact of his upbringing upon his later years. It is fascinating reading, and in many ways is a story of triumph over tragedy. Born in 1918, raised in poverty, struggling through the Depression Era, nevertheless this determined young man rose to a position of prominence in the academic world. He graduated from Abilene Christian College in 1942, received his Masters degree from Princeton in 1948, and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1957. He has taught at several universities over the years, and has traveled the world sharing his knowledge with others. His book chronicles all these adventures in some detail, as well as the honors and tributes that have been accorded him throughout the decades. It is an anecdotal journey that will generate laughter as well as tears. Again, it is a fascinating read.

But this book is far more than just an autobiography, as the subtitle declares. It is additionally, and far more importantly, Leroy Garrett's Pilgrimage of Freedom in Churches of Christ. In my estimation, it is this that elevates this work to a must read for all within the Stone-Campbell Movement. Taking a phrase from Robert Frost's epitaph, who spoke of his "lover's quarrel with the world," Garrett characterizes his life's journey as a lover's quarrel with the church. "It occurred to me that the poet's quarrel with his world and my quarrel with my church have similarities" (p. xi). "And what was the quarrel about?" Brother Garrett answers it with a single word: "Freedom!" (p. xii). Garrett loved the church, but he realized that in many ways they had lost their focus. Leave them and move on? NEVER ... he loved them too much. Instead, he chose to remain among his brethren in the Churches of Christ and work for responsible reform. He sought to share with them the same freedom he had found -- "freedom from sectarianism and legalism ... freedom to think for ourselves and to question the dogmas handed down by our forebears ... freedom from the tyranny of opinionism ... freedom to examine new ideas, to venture beyond party lines ... freedom to take a critical look at our history and admit where we've been wrong -- and to get back on course" (p. xii-xiii).

As brother Garrett became increasingly aware of his freedom in Christ, and of how unaware of that freedom many of his brethren seemed to be, he began speaking out boldly wherever he could gain a hearing, challenging his beloved brethren to think. As expected, this did not always find a warm welcome among those uncomfortable with the thought of change. He was frequently vilified by editors, elders and evangelists within Churches of Christ. In January, 1955 he was actually arrested and thrown into jail for showing up at the Freed-Hardeman College lectureships and talking informally with some of the students. When he later asked one of the college officials what his offense was, this official replied, "Just being here is offense enough!" The President of the college declared him a mental case -- "We cannot believe he is a normal man" -- and thus had him arrested before hundreds of students, simply because they feared his teaching. It brings back thoughts of how the rigid religionists dealt with Stephen, with Paul ... and with Jesus. How shameful.

What was Leroy Garrett's mental illness? What was his demented teaching that posed such a threat to young, impressionable minds? Simply this -- that we are free in Christ and should be urging unity among brethren, not facilitating factions and promoting partyism. It was not a popular theme among the "powers that be." His opponents vocally encouraged him to leave and "join another church." This reminds me of a similar experience in my own ministry while I was preaching in Honolulu, Hawaii (where I served for six years). The former President of Freed-Hardeman, who opposed my own teaching regarding freedom in Christ, wrote and demanded that I get out of his church and go start my own!! Refusing to parrot the party line is anathema to factionists. I made the same determination as Leroy Garrett, however -- leaving my faith-heritage was not an option. I loved them too much. I, like brother Garrett, would remain, and would be a voice of reform among my brethren. I spelled this out in greater detail in Reflections #20 -- Why Do You Stay?

Garrett devotes chapter 13 of his book to his "Unity-in-Diversity Heresy." His critics claimed he was advocating uniting with "anybody and everybody," regardless of their beliefs. This, of course, does not accurately state the case. "Unity certainly has its parameters. We were not calling for unity 'with anybody and everybody' -- as we were accused -- but only with those who are in Christ. Carl Ketcherside had a way of putting it: 'Wherever God has a child, I have a brother or sister.' We are in unity and fellowship with all God's children, wherever they are, but only with God's children, we stated over and over. These clarifications usually fell on deaf ears" (p. 125-126).

Brother Garrett has spent his life calling his brethren in the Stone-Campbell Movement to reclaim the focus of our early pioneers. We are a unity movement, not feuding factionists and squabbling sectarians. "While our pioneers insisted 'We are Christians only, but not the only Christians,' our people have been sectarian in claiming to be the only Christians. And while they said, 'In essentials unity, in opinions liberty, in all things love,' our opinions have been made into essentials. By multiplying the essentials, several sects have been spawned among Churches of Christ" (p. 129). Dr. Dennis Allen, in his Preface to Garrett's autobiography, wrote, "I was born into the 'everybody's going to hell but us' Church of Christ, and I bought into it completely" (p. v). I fear many of us have. It is time for reform, and that can only come when disciples are willing to think for themselves. Dr. Allen correctly observed, "the only way to remain a legalist is to refuse to think" (p. v). Or, as Mark Twain once observed, "Reflection is the beginning of reform."

Brother Leroy Garrett ended his book with a couple of Addendums, the second of which dealt with what he would personally want for Churches of Christ. He listed several things, but his first two I believe are without doubt the most compelling ... and the most critical -- (1) Let us recover our heritage as a unity people, and (2) Let us resolutely and absolutely renounce our more recent sectarian heritage. "If one's mission is to help renew and reform the church, it is a mistake to leave. Changes are best effected from within. ... If we need to make changes -- and we do -- then let the work begin from within in a loving and forbearing way. We do not help our people by leaving. We are to stay put and work for renewal where we are" (p. 270).

This moving autobiography concludes with the mention of a man who was to be one of the central figures in my own pilgrimage of freedom in Churches of Christ -- Dr. Stephen Eckstein. On pages 282-283 Garrett recounts an event which occurred at the university where Steve served as the Bible Chair director. I have known Steve and Mildred Eckstein for most of my life, and I regard him as one of the primary influences who shaped who I am today. I studied under him at the university for years, and he was the chairman of my graduate committee for my Master's Degree. In fact, Steve is coming here for a visit in just two weeks, and I look forward to hearing him speak at our congregation. It was from Steve, over thirty years ago, that I first began to develop an awareness and appreciation for God's matchless GRACE. Under his guidance I began my own pilgrimage of freedom within my faith-heritage. Men like Leroy Garrett and Carl Ketcherside helped guide me along the way through their writings, and I pray that I might return that favor to others through my own written reflections on reform.

Brother Garrett writes that his "sunset years" are proving to be the best years of his life. He and his lovely wife, Ouida, have been married almost 60 years. She has stood faithfully beside him as his tower of strength. What an example they are to each of us. "One's perspective is honed by the years, and one's appreciation for what really matters is enhanced" (p. 254). Thank you, Leroy, for helping us better perceive what truly matters in life.

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Keep up the good work. I think you are one of the more sincere and thoughtful leaders in the Church of Christ today. I enjoy reading your thoughts. I think your efforts can do nothing but good for our people who, on the whole, need to think more, love more and defend less. May you be blessed by the God who is!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

The Law of the Husband is right-on. An in-depth study about MDR from the NI's teachings was what first started my move away from them. I saw their teaching on Romans 7 as a "force fit" in order to support a conclusion already determined.

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, Thanks. You have been a real light for me at this time in my walk with Jesus. I am preaching through Romans on Sunday morning and your article on Romans 7 will be very helpful. Thanks again.

From a Reader in (Unknown):

I so enjoy your powerful messages. I am passing your articles on to others and I am praying that your gift will continue to help all of us who were caught in "legalist doctrine." Thanks, and please keep up the good work!

From an Elder in West Virginia:

I continue to be encouraged and enlightened by your writing. I certainly appreciated the kind manner in which the brother from Mississippi offered a different opinion on the issue of fundraising. I appreciate his heart. It has been my pleasure, on occasion, to discuss the Bible with other men of this charitable nature. In the Ohio Valley we have an additional reason to forbid the practice of fundraising --- the "denominations" did it first! Anything "they" do first becomes tainted, making it untouchable for the "Lord's Body." Sectarianism runs deep when you live close to the hallowed ground of Bethany, WV. Although I doubt Campbell would ever have agreed with such a sectarian stance! We have twisted the concept of unity into something that he would not recognize.

Once I discussed the subject of fundraising with a fellow elder. Our teens wanted to sell Christmas wreaths (very nice and reasonably priced, I might add) to enable them to purchase additional puppets for their ministry. This brother, who was also against car washes, thought this practice was denominational, and that it was reducing us to begging, as well. I don't understand how a person could call this begging. Selling is work. Washing cars is work. I asked how he could complain about our teens volunteering their time to work at selling the wreaths and then donating 100% of the net income to the ministry. The teens did not intend to take a penny for themselves. I did not win. The teens collected the money from our members, including that elder, but they missed the experience of working and giving it all to God. Perhaps I should have pushed harder. How dare someone stand as a barrier to another's service to God!! We have got to defeat those "weak and miserable principles" which destroy our faith and our freedom. Keep writing, brother!

From a Minister in Missouri:

Al, in the past year I have been driven to study because of the Reflections you have posted. The Maxey-Thrasher Debate is still making me think. Now as I begin a second year of intense training in the Scriptures with you, I thank God I am free from law, and all systems, regimens and dogmas! I now see the grace and freedom in Christ. I have liberty ... not to sin, but to be free to worship and serve God in spirit and truth. I am spiritual, not legalistic. I don't bind things on others, and neither am I bound. I am free! I have that insight now! I need God's grace, Al ... because I can't seem to "get right" all these rules the legalists lay down for me. I can live by faith in Jesus, though. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Thanks for motivating me! God Speed!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, The Law of the Husband is a very interesting study, and I agree with you that Paul is showing the differences between the old and the new covenants here, and is not trying to teach on the doctrine regarding marriage, divorce, or remarriage. The Scriptures obviously teach in Matthew 19 that remarriage is acceptable (but not commanded) for a party that has been wronged in a marriage through a partner committing sexual immorality. To use this passage in Romans 7 to negate that teaching is trying to use the Word of God against itself, which no one should ever do. I have never run into that view, but I am sure I will at some point. Thanks for the lesson.

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