Issue #111 -------
March 9, 2004
The end comes when we no longer talk with
ourselves. It is the end of genuine thinking
and the beginning of the final loneliness.
Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
Reflections on the Human Condition, aphorism 150
I receive quite a few emails from readers, both positive and negative in nature, and try to share just a portion of these each issue in the Reflections From Readers section. Many of the letters I get contain questions, which I try to answer privately, or requests for special editions of Reflections, which I try to honor, although I am woefully behind in producing those in-depth studies. My goal is to respond to all legitimate concerns and requests of the readers, and thus I beg the indulgence of each of you who have submitted material to me for further reflection. In time, Lord willing, I shall get to each of them.
In this current issue of Reflections I will address several questions from various readers across our great nation. These are questions that I feel can be adequately examined in something less than a full length article. This is not to suggest that these matters are less weighty or less spiritually significant, it's just that they require less depth than I might normally devote to some other question, challenge or topic. It is my prayer that the following insights will prove enlightening and encouraging. May we always be willing to dialogue with ourselves in the Family of God, for to fail to do so will truly lead to the "end of genuine thinking and the beginning of the final loneliness" (Eric Hoffer).
From A Reader In WASHINGTON
This is the old Second Serving controversy that has been around for generations. It is a practice that has evolved into a multi-faceted dilemma for many disciples. Some argue a "second serving" is contrary to the biblical "pattern." Others suggest it is "unscriptural" to "divide the body" by sending a few off to another room to observe this memorial meal separate and apart from their brethren in the auditorium. Some teach that only those who failed to partake of the elements that morning may partake of them at the evening "second serving." Others insist that ALL members should partake right along with those who missed. This, however, causes great concern among some disciples who believe it is "unscriptural," therefore sinful, to consume these elements twice on Sunday .... there is no "example" of such, thus no "pattern," thus no "authority." And on and on and on it goes! The end result is division over what is essentially a unity meal.
To compound and complicate this matter even further, there are questions associated with the transporting of the elements to those who are in the hospital or confined to their homes. Is such a practice "Scriptural," or is it "unauthorized" due to lack of patternistic example? And if one allows the taking of the elements to such persons, may those who serve them partake along with them, or would they be sinning by consuming the elements more than once on a Sunday? May one disciple partake of the elements alone, or must there be two or more partaking for it to truly be a "communion" of saints around the table? And with whom is one communing? Fellow saints? The Lord? Both?
These are questions that have troubled disciples for many years. Something so simple and beautiful has been made far more complex than was ever intended. Frankly, I believe this problem can, in large part, be laid at the feet of sacramentalism. The Lord's Supper is NOT a sacrament, although I fear, in the minds of many of my fellow disciples, it has become one! This "doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist" has taken this simple "feast of the Savior's dying love" and transformed it into the "innocent cause of the most bitter disputes and theological controversies" (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, "Nicene & Post-Nicene Christianity," vol. 3, p. 492). With the rise of the sacramental view of the Lord's Supper came the perceived need to regulate and legislate virtually all aspects of this "Church sacrament." Restrictive LAW began to surround the observance, and, when such happens, ceremonialism, credalism and ultimately the evil twins of sectarianism and factionalism are never far behind.
The administering of this "sacrament" came to be viewed, during the Middle Ages, as the supreme religious function of the Church. For centuries people regarded the elements of the Lord's Supper as being intrinsically HOLY, and they further believed they had the ability, when eaten, to confer GRACE. Some even taught these elements had the power to bestow eternal life. IGNATIUS (who died around 117 A.D.; torn apart by wild beasts in the Roman Amphitheater; a leader in the church at Antioch) referred to the elements as "the medicine of immortality; the antidote to death." This reverence of the event carried over to a large degree into the emerging churches formed following the Protestant Reformation. To this day, even in some Churches of Christ, some feel that it is virtually a soul-damning sin to miss the Lord's Supper each Sunday. Thus, it is transported to the sick, served again Sunday evening to those who missed that morning, and packed in portable kits to the mountains for hunters and campers. One lady told me recently that she felt that if she didn't get her "weekly dose" of the Lord's Supper (her words), then God wouldn't bless her that week. This is nothing less than the ancient heresy of sacramentalism.
Again, the Lord's Supper is NOT a sacrament. It is a time when devoted disciples surround His Table, in loving unity as One Body, to share in a great memorial event which brings to mind the sacrifice of our Savior for our ultimate salvation. AS OFTEN AS (or "whenever") we observe this "feast divine" we celebrate our union with Him, unity with one another, and hope of His return. Jesus never sought to regulate this event with regard to frequency. He only sought to emphasize its purpose. WHENEVER we observe it, we should do so with hearts bursting with love and appreciation for Him ... and for one another!
I will give you my opinion with regard to a "second serving." First, the Lord's Supper is not something that has to be "made up" before the day ends or you forfeit some grace. However, if one truly desires to observe this memorial with his brethren, and was unable to do so when the brethren assembled that morning, then my preference would be for everyone present that evening to observe it along with this particular believer. If some "take the communion" to one who is sick or shut-in, then let each of them commune together with these people. By refraining, whether we realize it or not, we perpetuate a sacramental view of the Lord's Supper, and I believe that totally misses the significance of the event.
The legalists and patternists will, of course, suggest there is "no pattern" for eating the elements twice on the Lord's Day. To this I would respond: there is also "no pattern" for a "second serving" on the Lord's Day. Indeed, there is "no pattern" for a MORNING observance of the Lord's Supper. If one examines the "pattern" of the early disciples, as recorded in the NT writings, one will soon see that ALL observance of the Lord's Supper was in the EVENING. Thus, if we really want to be legalists and patternists about this, we need to abolish the morning observance of the Lord's Supper and "do it Scripturally" in the evening, which, by the way, would render moot all arguments about a "second serving."
Brethren, let's leave LAW where Jesus nailed it. It is time to forever abandon the folly of our factions which have been formed around our silly squabbles over inconsequentials. Jesus shed His blood to make us One Body. Let's live like we truly believe that, and let's rejoice in it whenever we surround His Table. "Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Cor. 10:17).
From A Reader In TENNESSEE
Antiochus IV, "Epiphanes" was determined to completely destroy all worship of the one true God. In his efforts to accomplish this end he slaughtered many thousands of the people of Israel. Women who had circumcised their babies were executed with their dead babies hung around their necks (1 Maccabees 1:60-61). It was his belief that such visible acts of extreme cruelty would discourage the Jews from following after their God. The mistake of Antiochus, however, was in his underestimation of the devotion of the majority of the Israelites to their God and the enduring power of their faith. This underestimation would cost him dearly. Not long after he defiled the Temple, the first stirrings of a revolt surfaced in an unexpected part of the empire, led by a relatively unknown Jewish family. This would grow into a bloody struggle for Jewish independence. I would invite the readers to examine this war in much greater detail in my study: The Silent Centuries, in which I examine in some depth the period of history often characterized as The Intertestimental Period.
Judas, the leader of the Jewish rebel forces, determined to enter Jerusalem and liberate the city, and also to purify the Temple and rededicate it to God. When they entered the holy city, the extent of the destruction which they beheld caused them to be overwhelmed by grief (1 Maccabees 4:36-40). Their grief, however, soon turned to determination and action. They set about the task of driving the enemy out of the city, and also of cleaning up the Temple. On December 25, 165 B.C. (exactly three years after Antiochus had defiled the altar of God by offering a pig upon it), the Temple was rededicated to God with great rejoicing and sacrifices. The celebration continued unabated for eight days. This is the famous "Feast of Lights" or "Feast of Dedication" (Hanukkah) which is still celebrated by the Jews to this day.
John 10:22-23 tells us, "In the winter, during the Feast of Dedication, Jesus was walking in the Temple on Solomon's porch." It is important to note here that nothing is said in this passage about Jesus observing the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). Yes, He was in a certain part of the Temple, according to this verse, but when in Jerusalem Jesus spent most days in the Temple teaching the people. Thus, it is purely assumption that Jesus "celebrated Hanukkah." That having been said, however, I personally have no difficulty believing Jesus probably DID celebrate this special occasion. Why wouldn't He?! Just because the OT Scriptures were "silent" about some things did not necessarily mark them as forbidden by God. A perfect illustration is the traditional use of Four Cups of Wine during the Passover celebration. This was never authorized in the OT writings, and yet we know Jesus observed this tradition, this "unauthorized innovation," because He employed at least one of those cups when He instituted the Lord's Supper.
I don't see Jesus having the same legalistic "hang-ups" that many of our brethren seem to have today. After all, it wasn't the extra-biblical traditions themselves that Jesus often opposed so forcefully, but rather the attitudes of the rigid religionists toward these traditions. They had elevated them well beyond the point where they served as a positive force in the lives of the people of God. There is absolutely nothing wrong with most traditions (whether Jewish or Christian) as long as they are kept in perspective. It is when they take on virtual equality with God's Law, are bound upon men, and become conditions of salvation and tests of fellowship, that it is time for reform! Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of His day for "transgressing the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matthew 15:3) and "invalidating the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (vs. 6). Jesus was NOT opposed to their traditions per se, He was opposed to what their traditions had become. When traditions are properly observed, they can be a very positive force indeed.
Thus, I don't have any problem whatsoever believing Jesus observed Hanukkah. I'm convinced He did. Frankly, I doubt Jesus would have a problem with the proper observance of various traditional holidays today. I can easily picture my Savior going Christmas caroling and hunting Easter eggs with the little ones! And, imagine how Thanksgiving would take on added significance when our Lord offered thanks for a family gathered together around their table. I find nothing in Scripture that suggests my Lord opposes tradition; I find much to suggest He opposes the misuse and abuse of tradition.
From A Reader In LOUISIANA
This is a good example of a tradition that CAN result in great good for those who employ it, IF properly perceived and practiced. It can also cause more harm than benefit if it is not handled correctly. "Walking the sawdust trail," as some "old-timers" once characterized it, is the tradition of penitent sinners "responding to the invitation" and "going forward" to confess their sin to the congregation (typically by whispering it to the preacher, who then announces it to all) and to ask for prayers. At the end of the "worship service" (which ends when "Amen" is said by the one leading the "closing prayer"), the members will flock forward to "welcome the prodigal home." Is all of this a good thing?! YES!! Can this potentially be a bad thing? YES!! The distinction lies in the hearts of both the congregation and the ones confessing sin to them -- i.e., what is the motivation?! What is the purpose?! What result is ultimately sought?!
The passage often quoted to justify the practice of "going forward" is James 5:16 -- "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." Some suggest that last sentence refers to the preacher or elder who leads the congregation in prayer for the sinner who came forward and confessed sin. There is no question in my mind that the above could be one practical application of the truths of this passage. I do not oppose such a tradition at all. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that there may well be other legitimate ways of applying the principles proffered in the passage. Does this confession of sin to one another have to be during an assembly, in response to the preacher's invitation, and involve "going forward" during the "invitation song"? Given the immediate context of the passage in James, could it also perhaps be a confession to the elders and a request for their prayers? Some scholars believe that is at least a possibility. May it also just be one disciple taking another into his/her confidence, and the two praying for one another as they encounter various struggles and challenges in life? This too would not be contrary to the spirit of the text.
Nevertheless, the reality is that we do have such a tradition in many churches, and the question from the reader is: What does "going forward" accomplish for the penitent person who does it?! That is a legitimate question. How is the one who confesses sin before the congregation benefited? What good is ultimately accomplished? First, I would suggest that, as the old saying goes, "Confession is good for the soul." It is an exceptional person indeed who can hold in, or internalize, his indiscretions and transgressions and NOT have these, in time, begin to weigh heavily upon him. Psychologically, confession allows us a release valve for this burden that, if not lifted or eased, can adversely affect us emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. The reader is correct in characterizing this as a "releasing of some of the inner pain the person is feeling." That is exactly one of the very purposes of genuine, heart-felt confession.
There is strength in numbers! This is another reason some choose to share their pain with the full assembly of their brethren in Christ. One person told me, some years back, "My guilt and pain is so great that I need the prayers and strength and support of ALL my brothers and sisters to get through this!" FAMILY is that wondrous safe shelter where failure does not have to be fatal. The church is family! If we can't bare our souls to our brethren, then to whom can we turn?! FAMILY helps each other. FAMILY extends a hand to the fallen, lifting them up. FAMILY encourages the fainting and gives strength to the weary. Why wouldn't we confess our sins and failings and challenges to one another?!! If our spiritual family is what it should be, we can confess with confidence .... assured that we will be helped, not harmed.
With heads bowed in shame, we each must confess that at times we, as the family of God, have failed those who have turned to us in time of distress, and who have bared their souls before us. Perhaps we have recoiled from them, and their confessed sin, in horror ... not wanting to be tainted by their transgressions. We have at times looked down on them with contempt for their failures, maybe even treating them thereafter as "damaged goods" and "second class Christians." Some penitent brethren, after confessing sins, are no longer called upon to lead prayers or teach classes or serve in countless other capacities. We remember their sin and it colors our perception of them thereafter. It is this that keeps some from "going forward" ... they don't want to lose their church family!! How sad that this should even enter their minds as a possibility, but our behavior has placed that very real possibility there ... to our shame!
We in the church have the power to heal or harm; to help or hinder. Our response to those who respond to the call to confess before us will largely determine the long-term effectiveness of their courageous act of contrition. May we never again let down those we love, as we all have too frequently done in the past. Rally to the side of the weak and become their source of strength. Support those who are stumbling in their walk. Let us walk with them, as family, in our common journey homeward! When someone "comes forward," regard it as a personal ministry opportunity. "Restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:1-2). What is this "law" of our Lord Jesus Christ? LOVE. "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). "Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (vs. 10). James tells us that when we love our neighbors as ourselves, we "are fulfilling the royal law" (James 2:8).
From A Reader In GEORGIA
I am encouraged by the honesty and reflective openness of this young man. In his letter to me (the above being merely a portion of that letter) he indicated that he is considering training for fulltime ministry and wants to make unity among brethren one of his life's goals. I pray that the Lord will strengthen him in this resolve and prepare his heart for a lifetime of service unto that end. We need young men to consider making the proclamation of grace their primary focus, and to devote their time, energy and resources -- indeed, their very lives -- to this godly purpose. May our Father raise up many such men, and women, in the generations to come!
I have written several in-depth articles on the nature and purpose of baptism, as well as a few dealing with special questions pertaining to immersion. These can all be located and examined in the Reflections Archives, to which I refer the readers. Most of the questions of this young man are thoroughly answered in those articles. However, for the sake of summary, let me briefly make the following comments.
Your struggle to accept and embrace others, brother, is a common one. You are in good company. The apostle John experienced that same struggle. On one occasion he sought to hinder the ministry of a fellow believer "because he does not follow along with us" (Luke 9:49). Mark phrases it even more directly -- "because he was not following us" (Mark 9:38). This is separatist thinking, which is a "kissing cousin" to sectarianism, denominationalism, and factionalism. Here was a disciple ministering in the name of Jesus Christ, but he wasn't in John's group. Therefore, John questioned the validity of his faith and service. We are no different today! Those who do not walk with US are immediately suspect! Such thinking only perpetuates the fragmentation and dismemberment of the Body of Christ.
One thing I believe I have learned from my study of Jesus Christ, and how He related to other people, is to try and focus on a person's heart rather than his heritage. I know the latter is much easier, and takes less effort and insight, but it has not served us well in our quest for unity of believers. Do I have theological differences with those in other faith-heritages? Yes, I do. But, let's be honest here ... who among us does not also have a few theological differences with our own faith-heritage?! To write off people simply because they are "not following along with US" is to incur the same rebuke from our Master that John received -- "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you!" (Luke 9:50).
I have not achieved perfect perception, much less practice, of all Truth. I suspect the same is true of most other believers. Thus, it is rather presumptuous and arrogant of me to dismiss others as being "in error" when that phrase equally applies to me. I have strong convictions, admittedly, and I am willing to share them and discuss them. But, until God removes Himself from the throne, and places me there, I had better be far more accepting than judging of my fellow believers! Therefore, rather than dismissing others with whom I may differ, I seek dialogue with them. By seeking to understand them, and their convictions, I will have greater insight into their hearts, which, after all, is where my Lord looks!! Thus, phrases like "He's a Baptist" or "She's an Independent Christian Church goer" mean less to me today than they used to. In my early days, these phrases would have been sufficient to write another off as "bound straight for hell." It didn't matter that I didn't even know the person! He was a Baptist. That was all I needed to know. Baptists are all going to hell. Period. End of discussion. Thankfully, God, through His infinite patience and grace, has led me to a more Christ-like spirit.
Who are my brethren? Very simply -- those who are in Christ! Wherever my Father has a child, I have a brother or sister! Brotherhood is not determined by pattern, but by paternity. Our unity is not based on preferences, perceptions and practices, but on a Person (Jesus Christ). As for what places one IN Christ Jesus, I believe the Scriptures inform us it is demonstrated faith in response to God's grace. It is not faith alone, but faith shown. That demonstration of faith is via repentance of heart, confession of lips and life, and baptism of the body (which symbolizes our death, burial and resurrection with Christ to a new life). ALL those who have done this are my brethren.
Does that mean I am in perfect agreement with ALL my brethren on every interpretation and application of every verse in the Bible? Of course not. Indeed, such is absolutely impossible. I don't even agree with my wife on everything, but we are "one flesh" nevertheless! The same is true in the Body of Christ. We may differ on any number of things, but we are One Body IN HIM. With regard to our baptism, which takes us back to our reader's question, how perfect must one's understanding be before that obedience of faith "counts"? In other words, if I have anything LESS than absolute, total perfect perception of ALL aspects of the doctrine and practice of baptism, am I thereby excluded from God's grace and doomed to hell? Some seem to think so. Let's be realistic here, however. Who among us is willing to profess he or she possessed infallible insight into all aspects of immersion at the moment they were baptized? Any takers?! Brethren, I know elders in the Church of Christ who can't even adequately explain all aspects of this doctrine. Does that mean they are NOT my brethren? Does that mean they are lost?! Does that mean their baptism didn't "count"? I know some who can't even begin to explain what Peter meant in the latter part of Acts 2:38 -- "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Does this mean they haven't received the gift of the Holy Spirit? Is bestowal of God's promises conditional upon man's perfect perception of every aspect of that promise? If so, we're all in trouble! I would refer the reader to my article on this topic -- Salvation By Perfect Perception: Is Redemption Knowledge-Based? -- Reflections #91.
Do some Baptists misunderstand some aspects of immersion? Yes! So also do some who are Methodists and some who are members of the Christian Church. So also do some who are in the Churches of Christ. There is plenty of ignorance to go around. No group has a monopoly ... the same with perception of Truth. NONE of us has yet "arrived." Thus, we just might need to be a bit more accepting, and a bit less judgmental. Maybe we need to start looking more at what our Lord looks at --- one's heart. If one has freely submitted in love to his or her Lord Jesus Christ, and has willingly obeyed His command to be immersed, and was motivated to that action by a deep faith, and has genuinely turned from a life of rebellion to a life of commitment to learning and doing His will daily to the best of their understanding and ability, then who am I to condemn such a one because their understanding of some aspect of timing or technique might differ from mine? I believe, given the above, my obligation is to accept them as my brothers and sisters, and then work together with them for greater awareness, appreciation and application of His will for our lives. That means both they and I will be doing some growing and changing in the years ahead as we refine and reform ourselves according to His Word, and as we are transformed by the indwelling and inner working of His Spirit in and upon our lives.
From a Reader in Colorado:
I have recently subscribed to your Reflections articles. They are wonderful! As one born in the Church of Christ, raised in the Church of Christ, and now a 30 year plus member of the Church of Christ, I have found your insights and writings some of the most refreshing and inspiring that I have studied in years! Thank you!
From a Reader in Florida:
Brother Al, As a graduate of Florida College -- the class of '67 -- I would like to thank you for including the message from the Florida College Administrator. Just to let you know, Florida College has also been under attack from the "Halbrook wing" of the Church of Christ.
From a Reader in Florida:
Before I went into business for myself, and left the ministry, I worked as a minister for the Non-Institutional brethren. From the beginning, and all through the major fight on the institutions, I was opposed to the division. In fact, during that time I wrote an article that Reuel Lemmons published in the Firm Foundation on this very subject of keeping the fellowship together. For various reasons, I have worshipped at a congregation who believes in the institutions for about 10 years now. As to the division that arose over the subject of institutions, it can be laid at the feet of both sides on this issue who did not try to work out their differences, but pushed the problem to the point of separating into two Churches of Christ. I believe that both groups are brethren in Christ. ... we should still treat them as brethren in Christ. I doubt that any of us, the Institutional brethren or the Non-Institutional brethren, have a monopoly on always knowing exactly what is right, and on knowing just how far the Lord's mercy and grace is going to reach to cover us when we are wrong.
From a Reader in Texas:
You have hit the mother lode! I have wondered why so much more narrative was devoted to the younger son. He distracts neatly from the more subtle, pervasive sin that hides and haunts our hearts. The prodigal's sin was flagrant, his repentance emotional, his homecoming dramatic. It was all so open. But with the stay-at-home lad, the problem was hidden and insidious. Doubt if it happened over night. Hard to see, hard to define and hard to deal with. Contrary to his brother, he probably did not recognize that he had a problem. I see his as the far sadder situation. The table was bountiful, but he was starving. Some of us are like that. Thanks for all you do in the service of the Father.
From a Reader in Washington:
From reading some of the responses in regards to the issue on using the treasury to help the needy, I got an eerie feeling all over me. Those who believe it a sin to use the money to help others are not following Jesus' example of love. Reading those replies felt like reading a letter from Satan himself! I know for a fact that many Churches of Christ will not even share money with their own members who are suffering financially without asking for something in return (collateral, signing an agreement to pay back a loan, etc.), thereby denying the principles taught in Acts 2:44-45. FOLKS!!! WAKE UP AND WISE UP!!! We are in extreme DANGER if we think we are bringing LOVE to the world and yet telling people who are in need to go away! I'm all fired up now! Again, thank you for your ministry ... I can't say that enough.
From a Doctor in Kentucky:
Al, I see that you got back several responses from current and former Non-Institutional brothers. Legalism sure is ugly. It's a tangled web that one must work hard to undo. For example, your "Preacher in Georgia" (I am guessing this is J.D. Tant) argues "lack of example" for helping Non-Saints from out of the "treasury." Hmmmm. I suppose this brother has "examples" for everything they do?! No! In fact, far from it. They lack NT examples for a multitude of things they do. The difference is they like to derive their "authority" (when they do not have examples) from a number of silly human inferences and deductions, which they have then made equal to divine law. It makes me wonder why this brother can't see this. Oh well, at least he is reading your Reflections.
I simply LOVE what the first reader from England wrote. We can feed our lawn but not feed people! That is the direct result of this doctrine. I also believe the Holy Spirit was working in my life to bring out the numerous glaring inconsistencies of the Non-Institutional faction, even though, at that time, I denied that HE (the Holy Spirit) could even work this way. You're doing a great job! Keep it up! We want to come visit you sometime. We may be going to a convention in Phoenix this year. How far is Phoenix from you?
From a Reader in Tennessee:
More about individual vs. corporate responsibility. The NI's have taught for decades a church may only send funds directly to an evangelist and not to a church which then pays the evangelist. But, they teach a church may send funds to another church in matters of benevolence. Now, reading the NT as a NI legalist/patternist does, will you tell me where in the NT a church ever, for any purpose, sent funds to another church? By the way, I have no problem with one church sending funds to another church!
From a Reader in Hawaii:
Al, I just saw your latest Reflections and noticed an email from Florida College, where I "wasted" two years. I know their theology on the "Lord's money" very well, as I did a sermon on it when I was there, and interviewed the man who was the Treasurer of Florida College at that time. That was back before I knew any better. Thanks for helping me "see the light" when you were here! Keep on reflecting!
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