Issue #144 -------
September 2, 2004
To serve is beautiful, but only if it is done
with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973)
If you have ever come across a caravan of RV's (recreational vehicles) filled with joyful, devoted, older Christian men and women traveling the nation and helping their brethren in Christ, you have very likely encountered a group of devoted disciples known as Sojourners. They are a group composed primarily of retired persons who own their own RV's and love to travel .... and, most importantly, love the Lord and their fellow brethren in Christ. Their noble and godly goal is the evangelization of our nation and the building up of the church, especially smaller congregations of disciples who may be in need of various kinds of assistance to be more effective in their own outreach to their various communities. Upon request, they will travel to such locations to aid these brethren in their spiritual and numerical growth, and also in the upgrading of their facilities.
The Sojourners program was the dream and vision of a couple named Paul and Peggie Scott. Paul was a career Navy man, and during their many travels they encountered numerous congregations around the country, and even around the world, that were very small in number and struggling to keep their doors open. It was his dream to do something to help these smaller congregations become self-supporting and stronger witnesses to their communities. While serving as an elder at the Pacific Beach Church of Christ in San Diego, California, he would hold workshops throughout the state, promoting evangelism. He still had his dream, but had yet to fully form a plan of attack in his mind as to how to accomplish it. When he retired from the Navy, he and his wife moved to Lubbock, Texas where he enrolled in the Sunset School of Preaching. After his schooling he labored for the Lord in both Wyoming and Kansas.
While serving in the state of Kansas, they were linked up with Richard and Georgie Jones. This couple had an RV, as did a few other couples, and an idea began to form as to how to accomplish Paul's dream. It was still in the "pondering and planning" phase, however. About that time, sponsored by the Frazier Street Church of Christ in Conroe, Texas, they went and worked in a mission area in South Carolina for three years. Following that they labored for three months in Staten Island, New York, after which they returned to Texas. Here they joined together with another couple who had come from the Pacific Beach congregation in San Diego. Marvin and Linda Hall (Marvin was also one of the elders in San Diego) left California and attended Sunset School of Preaching, just as the Scotts had. In 1978 they held their first workshop in Weslaco, Texas.
In January, 1979 they adopted the name National Evangelism with Sojourners, a name by which they are still officially known today. Those who share the vision of these first couples continue to grow in number year after year. However, the group admits that today there are far more requests for assistance from struggling congregations than there are Sojourners to do the work. The fields are indeed white unto harvest, and more and more dedicated couples who are able to be ambassadors for Christ on wheels are needed. Initially this work was sponsored by the congregation in Conroe, Texas. In 1991, however, it came under the oversight of the elders of the Church of Christ in Burleson, Texas. The web site for this congregation is: burlesonchurchofchrist.org. These eight godly elders continue to provide the spiritual guidance for this ministry, however individual Sojourner families are encouraged to remain under the oversight of the elders of their own congregations, whenever possible, and to keep their own elders informed of their efforts for the Lord during their travels through the U.S. and Canada.
Each October a major workshop is held at Camp Bee in Marshall, Texas. This is a very unique RV facility, and it is complete with meeting and assembly buildings, guest cabins, a library, dining hall, and offices which are staffed. Satellite workshops are held in Florida, West Virginia and California. At this meeting each fall the assembled Sojourners plan out their work and schedule their "sojourns" for the following year. These trips are based on requests that come into the offices from around the U.S. and Canada ... requests from struggling congregations seeking various kinds of assistance, both physical and spiritual. The Sojourners also assist with disaster relief efforts, helping to rebuild damaged church property. They will additionally work with Christian colleges, children's homes, and youth camps, doing whatever type of volunteer work is needed to assist the missions of these organizations.
Over the years I have had several retired members of congregations for which I preached ask about this good ministry. There may well be some reading this article who are also interested, or who may have further questions regarding this godly work. Therefore, the following contact information is provided:
Are The Sojourners "Authorized" By God?
You would think that all disciples of Christ Jesus around the globe would be absolutely thrilled that such a group of devoted believers as The Sojourners are willing to give freely of their time and energy to assist their struggling brothers and sisters in the Lord. One would think that this sacrificial ministry would be applauded, supported and encouraged, at least in prayer, by the saints all across the brotherhood of Christ. You would think that everyone in the church would recognize this ministry as one which edifies the saints, seeks the lost, and glorifies God. You would think that, perhaps .... but you would be wrong. As strange as it seems, there are those who condemn this group and all of their good work, insisting it is "unauthorized" by God. Since these patternists and legalists can't find an example of Sojourning in the New Covenant writings, they declare such a ministry to be "of the Devil," rather than of God. Thus, these men and women who travel the nation at their own expense, building up the church and helping to seek the lost, are all going to hell for their "lawlessness."
One of the readers of these Reflections, who lives in Florida, wrote --- "I was on one of the email discussion lists recently and made a comment about needing some suggestions about Bible correspondence courses and tracts that I could give out while on a Sojourn in North Carolina. I got a couple of good suggestions, and one person even sent me several free tracts. It was one comment I received, however, that got me to thinking again. I had mentioned, in my initial email, that what the Sojourners were doing was 'a good work.' The individual who wrote me questioned that work, quoting Matthew 7:21-23, and saying that what we are doing may not be 'authorized' by the Lord. He then went on to say that he was against any organization set up to do the work of the church. My question would be: aren't WE the church? Are we (Sojourners) really doing 'a good work' in what we are doing? Or, are we violating Matthew 7:21-23?"
Matthew 7:21-23, which is a portion of our Lord's beloved Sermon on the Mount, reads, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"
Apparently, the reader from Florida has been told, or at least the strong implication was given, that by participating in the program of the Sojourners he was guilty of "practicing lawlessness," and that he was in danger of being cast off by the Lord on the day of judgment. This harsh castigation of others, of course, all stems back to the flawed CENI hermeneutic. The principle was stated clearly by Harold Fite in a recent article published in a leading Non-Institutional Church of Christ periodical --- "Authority is established in one of three ways: a command or direct statement, approved example, necessary inference. A practice that cannot be proven by a command, approved example, or necessary inference is without authority, and the practice should cease. Should one act on the basis 'where the Bible is silent we have liberty,' he acts presumptuously, presuming God is pleased when He has not expressed His mind on the subject. Silence of the Scripture doesn't authorize anything. Silence does not give consent" (Truth Magazine, August 5, 2004, p. 12). Harold then concludes his article by declaring his position "cannot be successfully disputed" (ibid, p. 13).
Well, I beg to differ! Harold boldly declared that some disciples "act presumptuously, presuming God is pleased when He has not expressed His mind on the subject." Harold only half states the case, however ... a very common failing of these CENI patternists. What Harold didn't say, but most certainly should have, is -- "some disciples also act presumptuously, presuming God is displeased when He has not expressed His mind on the subject." The simple fact of the matter is this: God has NOT expressed His mind on the subject!! On some matters God has neither condoned nor condemned; He has neither prescribed nor proscribed. He has said nothing. Harold stated, "silence does not give consent." What Harold didn't say, however, is that biblical silence, in and of itself, does not forbid an action either! By only stating half the equation, Harold's legalistic "formula for authority" fails to "add up."
With regard to something like Sojourners, where it is obvious that there is not direct mention made of such a group in the Scriptures, and where God has said nothing one way or the other, it is imperative that disciples of Christ make use of the brains that God has given them to determine whether such a group violates any known biblical precepts or principles, and whether association with such a ministry would build up saints, evangelize sinners, and glorify God. Although I am not a Sojourner, I have known a good many who are, and I have seen the good work they accomplish for the Lord, His people, and His cause. They do not promote themselves, but the Lord; they are not out to make a profit, but make personal sacrifices to the profit of others; they build relationships among the redeemed, and seek to bring the unredeemed into a relationship with Christ Jesus; they help the needy with no thought for personal return or gain. Frankly, I see nothing in this ministry that in any way violates any known precept or principle contained in Scripture.
Another argument that some will make here, and this is primarily the argument of the Non-Institutional wing of the Churches of Christ, is that Sojourners is an "unauthorized" human institution and thus an organization operating "outside the church" parameters. These NI brethren use this same argument to condemn Christian colleges and universities, schools of preaching, children's homes and homes for senior saints, etc. Any collective effort on the part of disciples apart from the effort of the local congregation is considered an "extra-church" institution or activity, and thus condemned by God as sinful. True, God never said this, never even hinted at it, but they infer it from the fact that He said nothing at all. Thus, once again, we see mere men establishing divine law by virtue of human assumption. It is "decree by deduction" ... it is "authority by assumption" ... it is sheer nonsense! When finite men presume to legislate where God has not, the inevitable result will always be a shameful display of sectarian squabbling and factional feuding. The Lord Jesus said the following about the legalists of His day: "You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws!" (Matt. 23:2, Living Bible). Things haven't changed much in 2000 years!
The Non-Institutional brethren seem to feel a distinction should be made between the "local church" and any "extra-church" activities, events or organizations. If six Christian couples from the congregation, for example, get in their RV's and drive to another town to help a congregation repair their building (which was damaged in a hurricane), they can do this as individual Christian men and women, but they absolutely MUST NOT do it in the name of the "church." Thus, it was NOT "the church" that assisted those brethren in a distant community, it was individual disciples acting outside the parameters of the "church." The reader from Florida correctly stated -- "My question would be: aren't WE the church?" Absolutely!
Jesus declared the applicable principle this way -- "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them!" (Matt. 18:20). Those couples in their RV's are not only taking the love of Christ with them in their sojourns, they are taking Christ Himself. They are not merely "representing" the church of our Lord, they ARE the church of our Lord. The Sojourners are NOT an "extra-church" organization ... they are the church in action. WE are the "church" ... You and I ... wherever you and I go, whatever you and I do, when we do it to the glory of God, to the benefit of the brethren, to the furtherance of His cause, in His name and with Him in our midst, the Body of Christ is functioning as it should. "Church" isn't specified rituals performed at specified times in specified ways in specified locations by specified persons. "Church" isn't what happens at the corner of Cedar and Elm on Sunday mornings. "Church" isn't something you attend or "go to." The "church" is who we are ... and it is who we are DAILY ... and it is evidenced in countless ways as we sojourn through this life with Him in our hearts and by our sides.
When good brethren band together and travel to a place from which the "Macedonian call" has gone forth ("come over and help us" -- Acts 16:9), when they go bringing the love of the Lord, when they go to aid their brethren in whatever way they can, these spiritual sojourners ARE THE CHURCH. They are God's beloved children helping other beloved children of the Father. If our heavenly Father would send His sons and daughters to hell for traveling about helping His other children who happen to be in need, and who appealed to their brethren for aid, all because no mention of such activity is "spelled out" in the 27 books of the NT, then we serve a God so infinitely legalistic that NONE will ever make it to heaven. We might just as well walk away from it all, and "eat, drink and be merry," for tomorrow He will cast us all headlong into hell for some infraction of some rule He never quite got around to specifying! Frankly, brethren, I regard such a view of God, and of His family, as blasphemous. Such patternistic, legalistic theology is much more than merely "misguided" ... it is an abomination. Harsh words?! Yes, they are! And they must be spoken, for this godless teaching is causing people to be severed from Christ and fallen from grace (Galatians 5), not to mention the horrendous division that afflicts us daily because of this fallacious mindset. I believe that if we fail to speak out against it, we will one day have to give an accounting as to why to our Father.
Are the Sojourners "unauthorized" by our God and Father? If they are, I fail to see how! Do the Sojourners irritate and exasperate the legalists of our day? Oh Yes! ... just as the Savior irritated and exasperated the legalists of His day! Jesus of Nazareth, and His band of traveling "misfits," just didn't "fit in" with the rigid traditions and expectations of the religious "elite," thus they were regarded as beneath contempt. These religious elitists believed that by their many "works" they could gain the favor of God, but in their quest for exactness of religion they failed to attain unto a relationship with the Lord. Sadly, I fear there will be far more sectarians than Sojourners on the day of judgment who will hear the following words, "I never knew you; depart from Me!" (Matt. 7:23). After all, which of the two do you think is truly "doing the will of My Father who is in heaven" --- those traveling about at their own expense to promote unity among brethren and evangelism among the lost, and to show love to those in need who have called to them for help, or those traveling far and wide to condemn all those who differ with their narrow assumptions and human regulations drawn from the silence of the Scriptures?
From a Minister in Texas:
Keep up your ministry of writing! It's helpful to see others "who have not bowed a knee" to either liberalism or legalism, but rather to the Lord of heaven and earth. Peace and blessings be given to you!
From a Minister in California:
Al, I loved your recent article about the wheat grain pattern in the communion. Our Sunday evening services (about once a month ... trying to get up to twice a month) are different from the morning assembly. Last month we had a communion meal in which everyone had a piece of bread about the size of a hamburger bun and an 8 oz. cup of juice. As we ate our communion meal, we discussed at tables the meaning of walking a resurrected life. It was a powerful evening for everyone involved. God bless you, brother. Your articles are a blessing to so many of us!
From a Minister in Illinois:
Brother Al, I have grown up in the Restoration Movement, and preach at the Christian Church in -------, Illinois. Having just recently run across your web site, I have truly appreciated the attitude and spirit with which you write. Thank you!
From a Reader in Texas:
Sorry to bother you. I can only imagine how much email you must get each day. I'm sorry to add to the mountain of mail you must get, but I had a question about ordering your Reflections on CD. I intend to buy the CD of your 2003 articles so that I will have them in case (God forbid!) anything should ever happen to your web site. Will the 2003 CD still be available if I wait until the end of 2004 to buy it? I thought I might buy them both at once, and that way simplify shipping costs and everything. Also, have you ever considered putting your Reflections into a book? I always read for a few minutes before going to sleep at night. One (or two or three) of your articles would be the perfect length to read just before retiring for the day. You could put out a new book each year. Just something I hope you will consider. I personally would not only buy the CD each year, to be able to search and store digitally, but would also buy a copy of the book each year for easy bedside reading. So .... you'd have more money coming in to help pay for your web site.
Al, I love your Reflections articles. Each time I get a new one I read it as soon as possible. I decided to back up and read all the articles from the beginning. Partially because they are fascinating reading, and partially because I want to see the ongoing growth in your thought processes. It's kind of like reading someone's diary. You get a chronological peek into someone's mind and how it changes over time. God bless you for your work!
From an Elder in Missouri:
Brother, another job well done! I have always thought Romans 7:14-25 referred to Christian Paul and his own struggles with sin and the flesh. This seemed to me to be the simplest understanding, and the one that gave me the most hope personally. I had not given the other view much credence simply because it sounds too much like "once saved, always saved" -- like becoming a Christian automatically puts one beyond the reach of Satan and his wiles. Instead, we are warned often to take heed and to watch, and that Satan is a roaring lion, and many other similar warnings to Christians about the possibility of falling away.
The key to my understanding of Romans is that man cannot save himself -- not by law keeping, not by morals, not by good works, not by anything except by the blood of the Crucified One. Like the song -- "What can wash away my sins, nothing but the blood of Jesus." "Who can save me from this body of sin and death ... there is no condemnation to those in Christ ... we are more than conquerors..." WOW. What a message of hope and joy! I am wretched (when I try to depend on my own strength and virtues, or on some kind of law -- even THE Law), but have no fear of condemnation or defeat when I am totally dependent upon the grace, mercy and sacrifice of the Lord. I am a conqueror because He made me one, not because He made me sinless.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Thanks for the Reflections article on Romans 7. The debate may go on, but when I read that passage I see in Paul the same struggle that I have had over the past 48 years of my life. I can relate to Paul's struggle. I can rejoice as did he, that Jesus is the answer. Sadly it took almost 40 of those years to realize it. I thought it depended upon me crossing every "t" and dotting every "i." I have since learned that when I come before Jesus, I will not remind Him of my baptism, how many times I attended the assemblies, how often I partook of the Lord's Supper, or how many folks I taught, but I will fall down at His feet and say, "Thank YOU, Jesus." He is all that counts. He is the Savior, not me. I am so thankful that He has been so patient with me during all those years that I floundered around thinking I was my own savior. What is amazing is that even while floundering, even then, He was my Savior. With Paul I can say, "Thank God! It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free." Thanks again for a great article.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Wow! I never realized that there was so much controversy over Romans 7:14-25. I guess I have been in the woods all of my life! I simply believe that the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul the "Conflict of Two Natures." The solution is the issue -- Rom. 8:13, "For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."
From a Reader in Louisiana:
This was an interesting article. I had never once thought that Paul was writing about the time before he was a Christian. Perhaps, it is because I too battle continually with my own heart and mind. Thanks for a look at the other side of things. It at least gives one pause.
From a Reader in Florida:
Thank you for sending your Reflections to my daughter. I have many more friends' e-mail addresses that I will give you soon. I appreciate you reaching out to others for their views in your research. I also pray that more and more Christians will have a greater yearning for determining what is right and not which one of themselves is right. Like you, I do not wish them to be so dogmatic on issues that it will cause grumbling or even a split. I agree that each congregation should govern itself within the will of God. Where my family and I worship, we are blessed with elders who are ever growing in wisdom. Just as God intended, I pray all congregations may experience shepherding elders and not iron fist rulers. I wish more and more Christians grasped the grace of God. May the love of the Lord always abound in your wonderful work. I know the devil is really angry with you. Praise God!
From a Reader in Hawaii:
Wow, Al. Some of these recent topics are really hitting close to home. And that "Special Request" -- sizzling good. I grew up in a typical Non-Institutional congregation. When I graduated from high school I attended "good ol' Florida College" where I learned more NI stuff. After that, I preached part-time for a NI congregation, but after two years was forced out by the "senior" minister. For the first time I began to attend a "different kind" of congregation. There I found that Jesus actually loves us, and I found we are really saved by grace. After the army I moved to Hawaii where a brother made a proposal to me I will never forget: "Go back to the Bible and relearn everything all over again for yourself." I didn't do much with that then, but years later I moved to Honolulu where I met you. Since then I have really been challenged in my biblical thinking. Thank you so much. I do so miss our lengthy conversations. Now you offer us all your Reflections. May God bless you with many more years to reflect.
From a Minister in North Carolina:
Al, thanks for sharing with us these very interesting discussions. I am an evangelist in a Non-Institutional congregation (for lack of a better term). I come out of a "strict patternistic" tradition. But, while I believe the New Testament has a pattern, I think most brethren (including myself) have been at times inconsistent, too strict in several areas, and too loose in other areas. I think the primary pattern is the life of Jesus.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear Al, I just wanted to share a thought or two with you. Our longtime minister preached his shopworn sermon on "the pattern" just this past Sunday -- both morning and evening. It almost made me physically ill. I would have been better served to stay at home Sunday night. I sat in my pew and mentally shot his lesson so full of holes that it would have been unrecognizable. How thankful my husband and I were that we had not invited guests! Ours is an old, well-respected church whose numbers are plummeting. My husband and I stay because it's home, and because we love the people. Thank you, always, for the time, effort and prayer I know you devote to His cause!
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, Thanks for all the work you do with Reflections, as well as your overall study, open spirit, and work with the church. My wife has communicated with you, but this is my first response to your work. Keep up the good work, and may God bless your labor.
From a Reader in Missouri:
My beloved brother Al Maxey, You have truly been an inspiration to me! I'm from one of the strictest sects of our fraternity (the one cup, no classes, no instrumental music, no clapping, unleavened bread where each participant breaks their own piece, unfermented grape juice). Yes, that's me, brother ... and I've been writing to you for the past two to three years. I don't think I ever shared with you what I truly was, but now you know. Hey Al ... I am now free, brother!! I will no longer be a part of that sinfulness and the condemning of others. I'm going into a "house church" mode of worship. This will enable me to get away from the Pharisaism and patternism. I just wanted you to know that you've helped me, brother, to become free in the Lord. Love you!!
A Very Special Request
From Reflections Reader Jack Kirby
A reader from Texas wrote in Reflections #143 that his wife and two daughters had Celiac Sprue Disease. My young grandson (who is 16) has just been diagnosed with this. I would like to hear from that writer and any others so afflicted with this. Please contact me at the above email address. Thank you all very much. Jack Kirby, Cleburne, TX.
From a Reader in Edinburgh, Scotland:
It's good to write to you again, and to let you know that your work is continually encouraging to my wife and me. Practically every evening when I get home from work, my wife will ask me if there was "an Al Maxey today!" She always really looks disappointed if I shake my head in the negative. No doubt if you produced an issue each day she would still be pestering you for more! You broach some intriguing topics. Best wishes for you and your family.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Good exegesis, Al (as usual), on your article Fighting The Battle Within. It might be pointed out that one who is unfamiliar with God, and the will of God, cannot struggle over violation of what he doesn't know. Only those who've learned of God's will can experience the inner turmoil of wrestling between self-will and God's will. Paul was still very human, still running the race, and still tempted just as all Christians are; yet Paul was also devoted to fulfilling the demands of being faithful as a servant of God. It seems to me it follows that Paul was indeed speaking of his own internal struggles as a Christian.
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