Issue #162 -------
December 9, 2004
I have found that to make a contented slave,
it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is
necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and,
as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason.
Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)
Frederick Douglass (1817-1895), a former slave who became one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement in the decades prior to the Civil War, and also one of America's first great black orators, issued a global challenge when he uttered these immortal words, "Every one of us should be ashamed to be free while his brother is a slave!" John F. Kennedy, in a campaign speech delivered on October 2, 1960, phrased it this way, "If men and women are in chains anywhere in the world, then freedom is endangered everywhere." The harsh reality is: men and women are enslaved all around us ... the sad reality is: many of them don't even realize it. In 1944, B.H. Liddell Hart (1895-1970), in his memorable work The Perpetuation of Compulsion, identified part of the problem in a most insightful question: "Are we so accustomed to our chains that we are no longer conscious of them?" I fear the answer, in too many cases, is a resounding Yes.
My focus in this reflective article on enslavement is not racial, but religious. This is not to discount the godless nature of the former (as we have witnessed in our own nation), but rather to heighten our awareness of the latter. It is an equally abominable bondage. All about us souls are enslaved to the tyranny of sectarian tyrants. The spirit of Diotrephes (3 John 9-11) is alive and well in the many factional leaders of Christendom. These power-crazed partyists have amassed a faithful following of mindless militants who are only too willing to encircle their flock of followers like vicious watchdogs to keep them penned up within the parameters of their party. What is truly tragic is that many of the flock have so utterly surrendered their right to reason to these malicious masters that they are blinded to their bondage. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), in an entry to his Journal dated December 4, 1860, astutely observed, "Slavery exists wherever a man surrenders his inalienable rights of reason and conscience. Indeed, this slavery is more complete than that which enslaves the body alone."
The termination of tyranny, the abolition of slavery, the pathway out of bondage and into freedom begins when men dare to THINK. Thus, rational thought is the greatest fear of the oppressor, and the greatest need of the oppressed. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) wrote, "Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth" (Principles of Social Reconstruction). Russell went on to point out that those who dared to think were the "subversives and revolutionaries" who posed a merciless threat to those who would enslave the masses. One will never be free until one shakes off the shackles of the Party Police. In totalitarianism, which, frankly, is what one finds in sectarianism, freedom of thought is forbidden. "In a Party member, not even the smallest deviation of opinion on the most unimportant subject can be tolerated" (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four). Truth will never reign supreme in the lives of men until thought is unchained. Thomas Paine (1737-1809), one of America's truly great thinkers, wrote the following words in the year 1796 -- "When opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail" (The Age of Reason: An Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology).
Brethren, it is time to be painfully blunt and honest in our self-evaluation. Too many suffer under the heavy burden of sectarian slavery. We have brethren in bondage, and that should trouble us far more than it typically does! For many years I have been burdened by their bondage. I am free in Christ .... but I am not fully at peace, for I know that countless precious souls are enslaved. I vowed early on in my ministry, if God would give me the ability and opportunity, that I would devote a portion of my time and energy to exposing the sectarian death camps and proclaiming freedom unto their captives. It has proven to be a personally perilous resolve. I have been attacked, slandered, "written up," and hounded, as have others who dared to enter the territory of these tyrants. Yet, souls have found freedom ... they have fled the factions, parted with the partyists, severed themselves from the sectarians ... and witnessing their joy in discovering Truth, and watching them take those first tentative steps into the light of a newfound freedom, has made this difficult journey all worthwhile. If we aren't willing to risk our own personal safety in order to rescue those suffering under tyranny, then, in my opinion, we are not worthy of our own freedom! With freedom comes responsibility -- not just to preserve and protect it, but also to promote it.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1). While in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read the above passage to the assembled Jews, and then informed them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). Did those religionists rejoice at this gracious teaching? Were they thrilled that freedom was being proclaimed in their hearing? On the contrary! Such a message threatened their own perceptions, "and all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they rose up and cast Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff" (vs. 28-29). Yes, daring to preach freedom can be personally perilous! But, preach it we must. If we don't, the captives will remain captive, slaves will never know the freedom we have found, and tyrants, disguised as shepherds, will continue to lord it over their fearful flock.
The passage Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah should be regarded as a personal challenge to each of us who are free in Christ; it should also be seen as a commission. Yes, let's evangelize the lost: those who have never heard the glorious good news about Jesus Christ. But, let's not overlook another vast field white unto harvest: those who have heard about Jesus, who perhaps have even come to embrace Him, but who do not know the freedom He died to secure for them; knowing only the oppression of those who would impose their own narrow, sectarian views upon them. Brethren, you and I must also be about the business of evangelizing the enslaved. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are not free in Christ. They too need to hear God's message of grace. They won't hear it from their leaders. Indeed, these leaders will do all in their power to shelter them from such teaching. But, teach them we must!
I have had many people over the years ask me how one goes about reaching these captives with the message of freedom in Christ. Admittedly, it is a great challenge, because their leaders have built high fences around them, and watchdogs patrol the perimeter. These religious Rottweilers and dogmatic Dobermans can be vicious beyond belief, and don't expect their masters to muzzle them. Intruders will be mauled without mercy. It is the nature of the beast we face; the nature of the evil spirit at work in these rigid religionists. Although there is personal risk involved, one can enjoy some degree of success in reaching those held captive. Let me share with you some of the insights I have gained over the decades in my quest to "proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners."
Expose Captors; Evangelize Captives
It is vital to distinguish between those who are captors and curs, and those who are their captives! They must be approached differently. The former are vicious victimizers, the latter are simply victims. Yes, often the victims are guilty of mindlessly submitting to the heavy-handed tactics of their oppressors, but they are still in a separate spiritual category. Some men are to be pitied, others to be feared (or at least shown healthy respect because of the danger they pose). Jude phrased it this way -- "Have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh" (Jude 22-23). Both tyrants and those tyrannized are in need of rescue, but one is a far greater challenge than the other. Don't confuse the two .... it will prove costly.
It is also very easy to become distracted from the mission of rescuing distressed disciples by spending one's time debating Diotrephes. One of the favorite tactics of those committed to binding their convictions as law upon the rest of humanity is to intercept those who would share another view with their disciples and detour them into endless debate and squabbling, where there are really no winners. Dialogue with the open-minded can be productive; debate with the close-minded is fruitless. It has been my experience that factional leaders, as well as their attack dogs, are rarely willing to seriously consider any view but their own. Thus, it is my view that one's time and energy is better spent seeking to enlighten the enslaved, than sparring with those who enslave them. Focusing on the latter only detracts from the mission of seeking to free the former. Seek to expose to the light those who have devoted themselves to lording it over God's people, but spend the bulk of one's effort on evangelizing those in bondage. God's grace will have a greater impact on them than on those who seek to limit that grace.
One of the main purposes of my Reflections is to try and reach individuals who are "under the watchful eye" of their masters. These little lords have repeatedly, over the years, done all in their power to keep me away from their flock, as they are literally terrified of the impact of Truth upon those enslaved to the tedious tenets of their imposed tradition. Over the years I have been successful, thanks to God's working, in leading a great many people out of this bondage to legalism. As a result, I have become "marked" by these sectarians as "a deadly threat to the church." Actually, what they don't realize, is that it has nothing to do with me. Al Maxey is a threat to no one. It is Truth they actually fear; it is challenging their people to think that they fear; it is someone questioning the party positions that they fear. Anyone who dares to bring such a message of grace within their walled cities will be attacked. Jesus discovered this when He proclaimed liberty in the synagogue. Stephen discovered it when the sectarians could not refute his teaching. They stopped up their ears, rushed upon him, and murdered him. Trying to liberate a death camp is dangerous business; the guards and commandants take a dim view of it.
Contrast Captivity With Liberty
This leads to the next point --- when communicating with those who are enslaved to sectarian, legalistic, patternistic tradition, help them to perceive the tremendous contrast between their condition and the joys of freedom in Christ Jesus. The differences are stark. It is truly tragic, and heart-rending, to consider the fact that we have countless brethren who have lived their lives in spiritual captivity without any awareness or appreciation of the joys of being free. Their lives are filled with fear, guilt, misery and intimidation. Someone once characterized such people this way: "They have only enough religion to be thoroughly miserable!" I had a visitor come up to me a couple of weeks ago, get right in my face, and tell me she was VERY offended because our youth clapped during the closing hymn! How DARE they express such unbridled emotion?!! "Don't they realize they are IN CHURCH?!" No, ma'am! They don't. What they realize is that they are IN CHRIST; that they ARE the church; that they are liberated by His blood. They are JOYFUL .... and dare to show it! Praise God! If "doing church" is sitting like a corpse in a pew, looking like you've sucked a lemon, then God help us!!
Let's be about the business of BEING the church, not going TO it once a week. We need to show the world about us, and, yes, some of our brethren as well, the great JOY that is ours as freemen in Jesus Christ. "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and rejoice in Christ Jesus" (Philp. 3:2-3). When one is free, one knows JOY; when one is still enslaved, such is a foreign concept; indeed, witnessing such joy can be somewhat distressing for them, for it indicts their own emptiness. Nevertheless, such stark contrast will touch the hearts of some who are growing dissatisfied with their joyless existence. LIVE your freedom in Christ visibly before them, showing them the beauty of a life filled with the Spirit. It will attract some, just as it repels others.
Exhibit Endurance When Assaulted
One thing you must realize when seeking to evangelize the enslaved is that you will come under immediate and intense affliction by those who enslave them. You will be marked and maligned in the most malicious fashion imaginable. The fierceness of the assault against you will be staggering, and they will shamelessly employ any tactic or strategy they can conjure up to assure the defeat of your resolve to bring the light of freedom to those whom they oppress. You will think the forces of hell itself have been unleashed against you ... and you would not be far wrong!
Expect to be slandered, mocked, mauled, misrepresented, insulted, humiliated, and hounded for as long as you dare to preach freedom to the captives and liberty to the enslaved. These personal assaults hurt. Hearing the lies, and knowing others believe them, is a serious blow to one's spirit. It is meant to be! The whole purpose of such attacks is to silence you and force you to retreat. If you succumb to such Satanic pressure, you only leave countless precious souls languishing in their captivity. You must persevere! Do not become discouraged, do not despair, and do not allow such hellish hounding by these caustic curs to dissuade you from your godly purpose and resolve. Never accept defeat. Endure. Persevere. If even a few are rescued, the affliction will have been well worth it.
I must admit that this is one area in which I personally struggle. For many years now I have been viciously attacked by those who view me as a "threat to the church." There are several persons who are absolutely obsessed with bringing about my destruction, and they have pursued me with a hellish resolve for years. One person even told an Internet discussion list owner that he would do anything it took, no matter what, to ruin me, and he has been trying for years. This is not only painful to me, but also to my wife, who has to listen to such verbal vomit spewing forth almost daily from these godless wretches. It hurts. But what hurts even more is knowing that there are those who swallow such tripe as though it were truth. There are times when it would be so easy, and it is so tempting, because I grow weary, to simply abandon the captives to their enslavement so as to enjoy some personal peace. Our Lord has not called us to be "at ease in Zion," however. He's called us to endure.
We must stand firm; not allowing ourselves to become despondent over the ill-treatment of the forces of evil who array themselves against us. Paul told the saints in Philippi, and that instruction is for us as well, to "stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents -- which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philp. 1:27-29). Thus, for all those who are called of God to evangelize the enslaved, I urge you to take up the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-17) .... you are going to need it if you hope to stand firm in the face of the vicious onslaughts of the enemy.
Yield Not To False Brethren
Paul shares with us a vital principle that will serve us well in our dealings with those who seek to enslave others to their own theological whims. In the book of Galatians, which many scholars, myself included, believe to be the very first book of the NT canon penned (probably around 49 AD), the apostle Paul warns the saints against those individuals who are intent upon returning those free in Christ to a state of religious captivity. He characterizes them as "false brethren" who have "sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage" (Gal. 2:4). These false brethren have never disappeared; they are alive and well even to this day. Wherever men and women are in bondage to law, tradition, ritual and dogma, there you will find a crafty cadre of little lords seeking to dominate unsuspecting disciples. Paul says they "sneak" and they "spy," and their sole purpose is to enslave others to the tedious tenets of their tradition.
When you seek to evangelize the enslaved, you will encounter these false brethren. They will descend upon you like the plague; some may even now be infesting your own gatherings of disciples ... secretly, of course, as they are cowardly deceivers who love to sneak about and spy upon those who enjoy freedom in Christ. They do this not to learn Truth, but to determine how best to subvert that Truth, and lead others into bondage. What is to be our response to such people? Paul doesn't mince words -- "But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you" (vs. 5).
Brethren, if Truth is to be advanced, if the gospel is to be defended, if freedom in Christ is to be maintained, we must NEVER yield to those who demand we bow to their own personal perceptions and preferences and practices. Yielding to false brethren is not only a personal defeat, it is a defeat for the gospel and for Truth. Paul had absolutely zero tolerance for such people. Indeed, in one of his harshest statements in all of his writings, he said, "As for those who are troubling you, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" (Gal. 5:12). For those promoting circumcision, Paul prescribed castration! No, Paul was not amused by these legalists. Indeed, he pronounced an anathema upon them (Gal. 1:8-9). Yes, we should regard with pity and compassion the victims of these partyists; we should seek to rescue them from their captivity. However, we should regard much differently those who hold them captive. Yes, convert them if you can ... God desires all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9) ... but be very, very cautious: there is great danger in seeking to minister to such men. Jesus phrased it this way -- "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces" (Matt. 7:6).
Challenge the Contented
In the quotation at the top of this study, Frederick Douglass observed that the shameful condition of far too many slaves is that they are "contented." Why? Because they have ceased the exercise of thought and reflection. Slaves become content when they cease to consider an alternative to their condition; they accept their plight and resign themselves to their bondage. Rising up against the Party Powers becomes unthinkable, and thus they perish like cattle. Our challenge is to challenge them. We must take advantage of every opportunity our God grants us to reach these prisoners of Partyism, and when we reach them we must carefully and prayerfully compel them to assess their spiritual situation, rouse themselves out of their slumber, rise up against their captors, and flee their prison walls to the freedom that awaits them in the endless expanse of God's grace.
One of the primary purposes of these Reflections, one of the chief reasons I began this Internet/email ministry (just over two years ago -- Dec. 1, 2002), was to reach quietly through the walls of sectarianism, factionalism and partyism, and provide some weekly nutrition to those famished souls withering under the lordship of their masters. I seek to reawaken within them the reflective juices which must flow if they are ever to be free. I seek to challenge their enslavement by helping them to perceive it through the eyes of grace, a view forbidden them by their captors. My goal is to create such a longing for release and relief within their hearts that they will refuse any longer to be held prisoner to the tedious tenets of their rigid religion, and will pursue that deeper, more intimate, relationship with Jesus that will secure their release.
All the many hundreds, and even thousands, of you who continually pass these articles along to others, and encourage friends and loved ones to subscribe, are vital fellow-workers in this effort to evangelize the enslaved and bring them to the knowledge that there is an alternative to their pitiful condition. I can assure you from emails, letters and phone calls I receive every week that men and women are finding their way out of bondage through this effort, and through your help our God is being glorified. May He continue to bless this ministry, and may He continue to bless each of you who are so faithful to support it. Only eternity will reveal the good that has been done by seeking to reach these captive brethren with the message of freedom in Christ.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, Once again I cannot argue with anything you have said in your latest article. At one time I might have, but over the years I have studied the subject of grace, as well as the area of works and salvation. I can remember clearly in my teen years before my conversion, and even afterwards, hearing preachers speak of our works reaching toward God and His grace reaching down to make up the difference. The image of a ladder was even used to show how we try to reach Him but fail, then His grace reaches down to us. How tragic! How hopeless! God's grace does not reach down to "make up the difference (or lack)" -- instead, it reaches all the way. Clearly there is no work (or any act of any kind) that I can perform (not even the act of believing) that will in any way obligate God to grant me salvation. We are saved by grace and not by works, lest we should boast. One major breakthrough for me when I became a Christian was the intense realization that all that I had done in my attempts to reach toward God were empty and meaningless. I did not need a portion of grace for salvation, I needed it all. A statement I use in classes and sermons is that I work because I am saved, not in order to be saved. No work I can do will ever make God owe me anything! Keep up the good work you are doing. I feel this type of forum is vital to the brotherhood, and of the several such newsletters that are out there that I have reviewed, I think yours fills a vital niche and will be remembered by many as an important one historically.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
From the responses of other readers, I am so glad to see that I am not the only person who is being refreshed to know that we don't have to keep a list to make sure we are doing enough to get to heaven. Because, what if we are keeping the wrong list? What then? Doomed to hell, I guess! Thanks be to God that His grace is sufficient and that His Spirit indwells us to guide us into all truth! Peace, my brother!
From an Elder in Oklahoma:
Al, I have read your Reflections article on "Grace and the Caveman" with care, and I have read all the responses from the readers. I wanted to allow myself time to process and consider your thoughts. A lot of things you say make much sense and appeal to my belief in a fair God. In fact, I hope that what you presented is really true. However, I cannot get past the one scripture that applies most directly to the discussion -- Acts 17:29-30. This scripture says to me that at one time God overlooked men's error in worshiping idols, but now He doesn't. These are people who sought to worship the divine Being they recognized in the only way they knew, by worshiping images of gold or stone. So, how does this apply to your caveman? What if he tries to worship the God he sees in nature through idols? Aren't you saying that God is continuing to "overlook such ignorance"? While I want to believe you, I find your arguments less than convincing. However, to be perfectly honest, I am uncomfortable believing God will condemn the caveman! I'm kind of stuck in a belief "holding pattern" on this issue. There is still more work to be done before this can be settled in my mind. Thanks for your thoughts on the fate of the unenlightened souls. I look forward to hearing further discussion on this issue.
From a Minister in Australia:
Thank you for your thoughts and time in the articles you write. You place a challenge before me, and I am sure before many others. Keep up the good work, and may the Lord bless you. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
From a Prison Minister in Oklahoma:
Al, you did not intrude upon me with the loving article about your parents. Please do yourself a big, big favor -- love them, honor them, be around them as much as you can, for the day will come when the family circle is broken, never to be restored this side of eternity. Savor each day with them. I speak from experience -- both Mom and Dad are gone on to their rewards, leaving behind a legacy of love for the Lord. That legacy, however, can not fill the gaping, empty place where they once lived so lovingly. I relish your Reflections articles; they challenge, edify and motivate me.
From a Reader in California:
Brother Al, Your Reflections articles are wonderful. I am presently reading your Maxey-Thrasher Debate on your web site, and also your book Down, But Not Out. My daddy tried to teach the brethren about the biblical "nature of man" and the end of the wicked, but most did not listen. They were so ingrained in past teaching, and were not willing to study it for themselves. My daddy was a good Christian man and died at age 84. He had a beautiful singing voice and read the Bible a lot. As a little girl I remember seeing him reading his Bible. My mother was a good Christian woman and a very hard worker at home. My husband and I are in our middle 70's -- growing old and getting closer to heaven! We love all of your Reflections, and really look forward to every one! Enclosed is a small gift to help with your work. Please keep up the wonderful work!!
From a Reader in Ohio:
Excellent reflections on John 6:28-29, Al. Keep up the good work!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, I have been reading your writings for several months now. Great logical presentations on much needed issues. I have a question for you in reference to baptism. I am a member of a strictly patternistic congregation. Twice I have seen the following scenario which concerns me, and would appreciate your comments. Whenever someone other than the regular minister does the baptizing, someone monitors the baptism from the baptistery. On two occasions, the monitor has insisted that the baptizer immerse the new convert a second time. I can only assume that the convert was not "fully immersed," whatever that means. I would appreciate your help with a response to this practice. Thanks very much!
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