by Al Maxey

Issue #187 ------- April 30, 2005
An ounce of dialogue
is worth a pound of monologue


Let Us Reason Together
A Plea to Differing Disciples for
Responsible, Respectful Dialogue

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once made the following astute observation -- "The happiest conversation is where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm quiet interchange of sentiments." Montaigne (1533-1592) wrote, "When someone opposes me, he arouses my attention, not my anger. I go to meet a man who contradicts me. The cause of truth should be the common cause for both" (Of the Art of Discussion). Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) wisely stated, "The end of argument or discussion should be, not victory, but enlightenment." These men have all, in their own poetic styles, expressed similar truth -- Truth is better served by dialogue than diatribe. Sadly, however, most people tend to flee from such responsible dialogue, preferring to isolate themselves from those with whom they differ. This only leads to isolated communities of combatants, and does nothing to further peace and harmony among men. To refuse dialogue with another only perpetuates ignorance, and this in turn perpetuates intolerance. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) wrote, "He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little."

Those who do marital counseling will quickly affirm the fact that one of the chief causes of marital breakdown is lack of communication between the parties to the covenant. "When couples don't talk, they walk." In other words, the absence of intimate dialogue between spouses will doom a relationship. This is no less true for other close associations. In the business world, a company will not long survive if there is no communication between labor and management, or between the latter and the stock holders. There will be chaos in the classroom if teachers and students don't dialogue, and anarchy in the school system if the administration never communicates with the teachers. Even within local congregations, the success of their mission, as well as peace within the community of believers, will depend greatly upon the level of communication between members and leaders. The survival of society at all levels demands regular and responsible communication among its many members. When communication breaks down, so do the foundational relationships of society.

God's relationship with His covenant people, Israel, reached a point where the severing of their union was imminent. God was speaking to His spouse, but she was neither listening nor responding to her Husband. Communication had broken down, and the relationship was at risk. Isaiah warned the people, "Your ears are open, but none hears" (Isaiah 42:20). "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches," is a statement repeated to each of the seven churches of Asia Minor as the Lord speaks to each one (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Not only did the Lord expect these disciples to listen, but He also expected a response. The latter implies a certain level of dialogue; the former implies only monologue. Thus, our God has always called peoples and nations to come to Him for the purpose of a living relationship, a vital part of which is two-way communication. "Come now, and let us reason together," declares the Lord God to His obstinate people (Isaiah 1:18).

That same message needs to be relayed throughout the world, and also throughout the brotherhood of Christ Jesus, today! Not only is there a woeful lack of vertical dialogue (between men and God), but there is also a woeful lack of horizontal dialogue (between disciples of Christ). It is the latter lack of responsible, respectful interaction with which I am specifically concerned in this current issue of my weekly Reflections. When disciples of Jesus Christ fail to communicate with one another, relationships will quickly grow cold ... and, in time, even hostile. For the Family of God to attain and maintain unity, there must be regular dialogue between brothers and sisters in Christ. This is especially critical when disciples differ, as spiritual siblings often will. There is nothing abnormal about siblings differing; it is when they divide that the family experiences dysfunction. The remedy, in part, lies in facilitating loving dialogue. Without it, the world will continue to mock God's Family for its many feuding factions, and our witness to the lost will be rendered ineffective.

I am going to be very blunt in my following statement, and I fear it may offend a few, but it needs to be said. Much of the blame for the dysfunction in the Family of God today, and for the separation of spiritual siblings, must be laid at the feet of those who are rigidly and uncompromisingly committed to a theology of ultra-conservative patternism. The legalistic fundamentalists have done more harm to the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ than any other living tool of Satan. For those interested in reflecting further upon this line of thought, I would refer them to the following very early editions of my Reflections:

Those guilty of "militant ignorance" are also the chief roadblocks to dialogue between differing brethren. Indeed, they oppose such dialogue with all of their being. One of the primary means of promoting and maintaining factions in the church is to prohibit dialogue between the parties. When separatists isolate themselves from their brethren in Christ, arrogantly erecting walls of exclusion around their "one true church" factions, diabolical dysfunction reigns supreme, and Satan scores yet another victory over the cause of Christ.

Let me give a few personal illustrations of how "talk about talk" can be rather "cheap." Ron Halbrook is a minister for the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ, and is considered by some within that movement to be one of their leaders. He has certainly done considerable writing and speaking and "contending for the faith." In an article titled "Regarding Controversy," Ron made the following remarks -- "Be willing to hear both sides of the issues involved and be wary of excuses offered for closing the door to open discussion. ... Something is wrong if the man you question does not seem glad for the opportunity to fulfill 1 Peter 3:15 -- 'be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.'" Let me just say, initially, that I agree 100% with what Ron wrote. Indeed, any man who is not willing to hear all sides of any matter before rendering judgment is a fool. "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind" (Prov. 18:2). That would be a monologue. Understanding comes from dialogue. Rendering judgment, either on a man or his teaching, without first engaging in responsible, respectful dialogue with him, is wrong, even by non-Christian standards. Nicodemus said, "Our law does not judge a man, unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?" (John 7:51).

Another minister and writer for the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ is Harry Osborne. I have also on occasion sought dialogue with this man, and with the same result. Harry has "written me up" and condemned me by name in the periodical "Guardian of Truth," but as for any kind of responsible dialogue for the purpose of greater unity and understanding -- there has been none, although I would welcome such dialogue at any time. Nevertheless, in a recent article Harry writes, "Truth is never afraid to stand up. Truth is never afraid to stand there and have a discussion of truth, to have an open Bible and to study these issues. Truth is always ready to do that. Error is not." Interesting comment, especially in light of the fact that Al Maxey is willing to do exactly what is stated above, and Harry Osborne thus far is not. Perhaps this tells us something about where Truth lies! Brother Gene Frost wrote, "Those who embrace error will shun discussion -- those who love truth will then be known" (Gospel Truths, November, 2002, p. 9).

Curtis Cates, who is the Director of the Memphis School of Preaching, "marked" me as a liberal "change agent" in his book "A Comprehensive Study of Unity" (p. 64-65). I have repeatedly over the years sought to communicate with Curtis about this charge he made in his book ... he has never responded. Over the years I have collected a cadre of committed, caustic critics. I am always hearing of some outlandish, outrageous accusation or charge being made in some publication about what the "ultra-liberal Al Maxey" supposedly believes and practices. Some are so absurd they are almost amusing. I generally try to contact the source of such assertions to see if we can begin a responsible dialogue to clarify the matter. In 99.9% of the cases, these people absolutely refuse to discuss the matter. Dialogue is not what they seek; only diatribe against all with whom they differ.

I am almost daily vilified on a Non-Institutional Church of Christ Internet Bible discussion group known as MarsList by caustic critics obsessed with destroying my ministry to those enslaved by legalistic patternism. Yet, I am forbidden by the lords of the list (Jon Quinn, David Arnold, and David Willis) from responsible dialogue in that forum and making a defense for the hope that is within me. In fact, one of the two owners of that list recently declared to the 400+ members that as long as he was in charge Al Maxey would never be allowed a voice to defend himself on that "discussion" list. Why? Because they fear the power of Truth over those whom they have misled and enslaved to the tedious tenets of their tradition, and they know only too well that they lack the ability to defend from the Scriptures their own narrow, exclusivistic theology. I suppose I shouldn't feel too badly, however, for Diotrephes wouldn't allow those brethren over whom he exercised lordship to hear anything from the apostle John either (3 John 9-11), and the Spirit-filled Stephen, when he tried to reason with the rigid religionists of his day, only had them stop up their ears and rush upon him with murderous intent (Acts 7:57). Those who dared to acknowledge Jesus or His teachings were "put out of the synagogue" (John 9:22), and even John, the apostle of love, sought to hinder a fellow disciple of Christ "because he does not follow along with us" (Luke 9:49; Mark 9:38). Such have always been the tasteless tactics of those steeped in rigid religiosity!

Brethren, if this is our model of Christianity, we mock our God and shame our Savior!! David Lipscomb wisely observed, "To suppress discussion is to deprive Truth of all of its vantage ground." Ron Halbrook, in his above referenced article, has advised, "Pay close attention to whether they seem to truly welcome and appreciate your questions. ... Those who cannot give Scripture for their position suffer from arrogance, impatience, and frustration which create bitter resentment against those who dare to question them." Those who cannot defend their positions, or who are unwilling to allow their views to be exposed to in-depth examination, will always flee like cowards to their caves in the face of serious inquiry, and will run like the wind from any kind of discussion or dialogue with those who have differing perspectives. They often "talk a good talk," but their actions betray their true character. They profess much, but produce little. It's like the old Indian chief who wisely observed, with regard to one of his critics, "Heap big thunder, no rain." When you dine with a Diotrephes, it's a famine, not a feast.

It is time for disciples of Christ to begin genuinely and fearlessly dialoguing with one another. It is time for spiritual siblings to begin speaking to one another, not simply hurling abuse. It is time for walls to come down, doors to be flung open, and for the Family of God to once again face one another over an open Bible for the purpose of effecting greater understanding, and with that understanding greater fellowship. Satan has kept us apart long enough; it is time for Jesus to bring us together. This will NOT be accomplished by one group defeating the others with terroristic tactics, but by all parties, sects, and factions within the Family of our one Father dialoguing with the others. Hiding behind walls and lobbing grenades at one another will never bring peace. We have fussed, fought, feuded and fragmented for too long. Our behavior is shameful; a reproach upon the blessed name of our Father and His Son; nothing short of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit who seeks to unite us in love.

I hereby issue a fervent plea to ALL disciples of Christ Jesus, regardless of which faction they find themselves within, or which faith-heritage --- "Come, let us reason together!" Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, let us sit down together, whether over a table or over a keyboard, and let us open our Bibles, open our hearts, and open our minds; seeking to come to a point of understanding that will allow us to honor our Father by uniting His children in love. I personally am willing to dialogue with any person at any time if we can do so in a spirit of love and respect for one another, for the Lord, for the Word, and for the One Body. Let this plea sound forth throughout the earth, and let us work toward the fulfillment of our Lord's prayer for Unity and Oneness and Harmony that He offered up on the night prior to His great sacrifice. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! ... For there the Lord has commanded the blessing -- Life forever!" (Psalm 133:1, 3). May God bless us all in this quest for greater dialogue between disciples!!

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, Your article "The Eldership of the Church" is a really good article and to the point of Scripture. Thanks for your work on this article. Love ya!

From a Brotherhood Leader in Louisiana:

Al, I just read your latest Reflections -- "The Eldership of the Church" -- which caused me to jump to several other articles of yours on various aspects of being an elder, including reading Ezekiel 34. As I was reading your article online, and printing it out on our printer, my wife came in my office to also print your article that she had just received on her computer. This is something we usually do for more thorough reading and discussion. I continue to be amazed at your insights and balanced approach to helping us all understand these real-life solutions to daily issues of shepherding a local congregation. If I had known you were so intelligent, back when we traveled to the island of Kauai together many years ago, I would have listened more instead of doing all the talking. Thanks so much for the work you are doing now!!

From a New Reader in Texas:

Your article on Leadership was excellent. Please add my name to your subscription list.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Al, I have just received and read Reflections #186. I have just one small comment, other than it is an excellent bit of work and we should savor the last drop of it. There should be a place in your article in big capital letters that stresses the need for leadership. Lead, lead, lead ... not be disruptive by demanding that the flock do as HE (an elder) lays down the LAW to them to do. Our Lord does the law making, we do the following. I have so often seen a congregation broken up because of one elder trying to demand that the entire congregation do exactly as he lays down the law for them to do. It is a sad thing to experience such a break up. Who are we to demand "one cup or many cups," or to demand that singing be done with or without instruments, or to demand Sunday School or no SS? The list goes on and on. We should have enough love for each other as Christians to overlook these things and simply follow Christ, not a lot of "rules" made by men. Al, it cannot be said enough -- Thank you, Thank you for the work you do!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for the wonderful and thoroughly documented treatise on "the eldership." The one expression I looked for, but did not see, was: "What we find is that the 'titles' found in the NT are more like job descriptions for service, than they are terms denoting rank." Elders are working members of the same Body of Christ -- no less and no more important than any other member of the Body. I wish we could all recognize the servanthood aspect more than the leadership aspect. You said the same thing, but just not in those words.

From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:

Al, Now you have really touched one of my buttons! I am encouraged to hear and see what seems to be new thinking among many within the brotherhood on this topic, and I commend our efforts to more accurately understand the qualities of elders rather than the qualifications of elders. However, I am afraid that we still have a skewed view of the situation as it was in the first century. It seems to me that we are still looking back through glasses that are tinted by our 20th century organizational structures modeled after the corporate world. We are trying to find biblical terms to apply to secular positions. This makes us feel more "Scriptural." I do not believe Jesus set up an organization (institution) or created any offices. I fear we handcuff and cripple our Christian communities by equating elders with organizational leaders. God's people need today, as they always have, mentoring and godly counsel by elders. God was not concerned with running an organization. We need shepherds for the Family of God. Your "Six Works" are excellent. We need men who exhibit these qualities and serve in these ways. Keep up the good work -- I have a lot to learn and expect you to keep shepherding me. Love ya, brother!

From an Elder in Missouri:

Al, Once again, that was a well written discussion. As one of five shepherds serving the flock here, I found your last article in Reflections to be a refreshing examination of the work. If more "elders" would truly examine the words, as you have done, and prayerfully look to the work of the elders, as you have done, I believe the church would be growing in an explosive manner as it did in the days of its infancy. True shepherds of the flock are a rarity (or so it seems from my experience in the ministry, and from having worked with many different elderships). We meet weekly in prayer and study -- not to discuss "business," as a board of directors, but rather to see what we can do to serve the flock in a better way. Our emphasis is on the spiritual aspects of growth and our concern is for each member of the flock. We pray regularly about our own need to serve and to become the kind of shepherds Jesus was. Not one of us tries to "rule" or dominate. We also all recognize that although we are "the eldership," each one of us is also in submission to "the eldership" -- something I have never seen in any other eldership in all my travels.

As I reviewed the previous thoughts, I detected a sense of pride. I pray that it is not a sinful pride, but it is true that I do feel proud -- proud to be a part of a congregation that has such a spiritual mindset -- proud to be counted worthy to serve as a shepherd -- proud to work side by side with men I love and who love me, and who have only one thing in mind: to serve our Lord to the utmost of our abilities. Each one of us who serve as shepherds here are profoundly humbled by the work we are called to do. Each, in our own way, realizes that alone we are nothing; it is only as a unified body of servants that we have any strength. I like your inclusion of Ezekiel 34 in your material. It is a powerful lesson that we all need to heed. I study and meditate on that passage often to test myself, and I agree that it should be regular reading for all elders. Keep up the good work, and may the Lord bless your efforts.

From Bro. John Modgling in Texas:

Al, How are you doing? I'm doing great. I'm going to begin school at the beginning of June, and I'm looking forward to it. I think that it will be wise to focus on my relationship with my wife, as well as furthering my education. I'm really looking forward to getting back to preaching full-time, but I think that taking some time off is the right thing to do. As far as my place in the army of God, don't worry -- I'm still fighting, maybe even harder now than ever. Thanks again for all you've done to help my wife and me get through all the stuff that's happened over the last month and a half. And thanks again for your work. Maranatha! Your brother, John

From a Reader in Indiana:

Bro. Maxey, It has been a while since I have sent you any email. My wife and I want to again thank you for all the wonderful Reflections you send out weekly. We surely do enjoy reading and studying them. Keep up the good work! Our prayer is that people across the world will take notice of them and learn from them. Thank you so much for what you are doing!

From a Minister in Colorado:

Bro. Al, thanks for the great comments on the Eldership. While I was pondering that, I read the first letter "from a Minister in California." I was struck with the notion that even though the one brother was content to remain true to "the old paths" with his one cup while the others "digressed" with multiple cups, the brethren did compromise and the one brother did not leave. They stayed together. What a lesson!!! The fact that they remained together, celebrating the memorial in different ways, at the same time in the same building, is awesome. That, I believe, is the finest example of the Stone-Campbell tradition. Unity on facts: the memorial itself; acceptance in opinion: how the memorial is observed. Granted, the one brother's attitude may not have been the best, but there is still a lot to be learned from that example.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, I am continually edified by your writings! I know I've said that before, but I must say it again!! I found that reading all of your articles on the eldership in order created an excellent springboard for study on this most important topic. They all build on one another. Thank you for including the links in your last article. As you have pointed out, elders are one of the greatest blessings we have on earth. I was privileged to be present when a friend of mine who had leukemia was anointed with oil and prayed for by a local elder. The brother, while not healed physically, was built up spiritually in more ways than words can confess. The anointing of oil by the elder, even though a symbolic act (and it was recognized as such by all there), was a tremendous comfort to this brother who is now in the care of the Lord Jesus. The spiritual wisdom, guidance, and comfort provided by the elder in this difficult time was beyond measure. I thank God for His wisdom in creating the great office of elder in His church!

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Al, I just read one of your older Reflections about elders anointing the sick with oil and praying over them. Of course, I have prayed over the sick many times, but I have never anointed anyone with oil. One time one of the other elders here anointed someone with oil. He wet his finger with oil and dabbed it on her forehead. That seemed kind of minimal to me, but I have never seen it done any other time. As an elder, I would willingly honor someone's request to anoint them with oil, but I don't know how I would do it. Thanks for providing great insights and invaluable studies that most of us are not capable of, or don't have the time to do.

From a Reader in Texas:

Hi Al, I just wanted to say I really enjoy your web site. I have been a long time member of the Church of Christ and your Reflections make a LOT of sense. I added your web site to my favorite places, and I am going to recommend you to all my friends. I wish you God speed, and keep up the great work! P.S. -- Ya'll are a nice looking couple, too!!

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