Issue #191 -------
May 23, 2005
The heart and soul of all men being one,
this bitterness of His and Mine ceases.
His is mine. Mine is his. I am my
brother, and my brother is me.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
In his epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote the following powerful declaration of the mission of Jesus Christ -- "He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall" (Eph. 2:14, NASB). Paul speaks here in this passage of unity and oneness; he declares that all barriers to such harmonious fellowship have been forever busted by our blessed Savior. Walls erected by the hatred, prejudice and bias of misguided men have come tumbling down. That which divided and separated the family of our Father is now forever removed, and we, who once were apart, are now together by virtue of the precious peace established by this great, eternal Unifier.
Just hours before being led away by the mob to His appointed suffering and death, our Lord prayed fervently that His disciples "may all be one ... that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me" (John 17:21). Jesus went to His death with this prayer on His lips. He shed His blood that blood-letting among the people of God might forever cease. By His sacrifice He broke down walls of exclusion, making men one and establishing peace. Why, therefore, are the people of God so shamefully separated from one another?! Why is the Family of our Father fragmented into countless feuding factions? Why do disciples refuse to dialogue with disciples, preferring demonic diatribe against those with whom they differ, rather than responsible reflection on the Word in the presence of their fellow spiritual siblings? WHY?!! The answer, at least in part, lies in the fact that such men and women have completely failed to perceive the significance of our Lord's action in "breaking down the barrier of the dividing wall." Indeed, by their attitudes and actions they rebuild the walls that isolate and exclude brethren; the very walls our Savior shed His blood to bring down.
I can think of no greater affront to the matchless grace of our heavenly Father, or to the loving sacrifice of His beloved Son, than, by our attitudes and actions, to effectively thwart one of the main objectives of our Savior's mission to mankind. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus .... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26,28). This is divine barrier busting at its best. Masters and slaves are brothers; Jews and Greeks are fellow citizens of one Kingdom; there is no wide chasm between rich and poor, male and female, young and old. We are all ONE in Him! Yet, how frequently we who profess to believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus betray Him by reconstructing the very walls He shed His precious blood to bring down! To do so is to stand in direct opposition to the eternal mission of the Messiah; becoming not a servant of the Most High, but His enemy!
Returning to the Eph. 2:14 passage, Paul informs us, by utilizing two powerful Greek words, that Jesus Christ has effectively and eternally broken down all barriers that separate men from one another (specifically, in this context: Jew from Gentile; but in the broader secondary application of the text: all men who may be estranged from one another by various humanly erected barriers). The two words used by Paul are:
Thus, Jesus Christ Himself (the reflexive pronoun autos is emphatic) is our PEACE. His mission, in part, was to destroy the power of the dividing wall that fenced in certain people, thus fragmenting men into separate communities. God's Son, through His shed blood on the cross, forever removed such walls of exclusion, and in so doing has made us all ONE. How grieved He must be to look out over Christendom and see His people "fenced in" once more by these dividing walls. That which Jesus gave His life to break down, feuding factionists have devoted their lives to building up once more. Paul uses the word luo, which means "to break up, destroy, demolish; to liberate, set free." When He tore down the walls, He set men free. Rigid religionists, however, have once again enslaved men behind party partitions. Literally, the word "religion" means "to bind back," and that is exactly what happens when men promote religion over relationship. Jesus came to establish the latter, and broke down the barriers of the former to accomplish that divine purpose.
Josephus used the two Greek words mesotoichon and phragmos "with reference to the balustrade in the Jerusalem temple separating the court of the Gentiles from the temple proper" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 40). On this dividing wall in the temple was this inscription -- "No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death." This brings to mind the incident recorded in Acts 21:29f where the Jews supposed Paul had brought Trophimus the Ephesian beyond this dividing wall, a false supposition that led to a riot.
We shake our heads at such godless extremism, but are we ourselves any better?! Do we not have our own "dividing walls" erected specifically to keep out those with whom we differ or disapprove? There are certain radical religious Internet Bible "discussion" (a genuine misnomer) groups, for example, such as the Non-Institutional Church of Christ group known as MarsList, that have built such high barriers and dividing walls around themselves that no one can even come near them without the approval of the lords of the list. Certain persons, myself included, have been placed under an "eternal ban" by these desperate despots, and their members are not allowed even to mention the names of such persons in the presence of the other members. Some, who have dared to mention my name anyway, or to refer positively to something I have written, have been cast unceremoniously from the group. One can't help but think of those cast from the synagogues by the Pharisees for daring to acknowledge Jesus Christ (John 9). Such religious fanatics have truly trampled the blood of Christ Jesus into the mud and mire by building walls between brethren that Jesus DIED to bring down. Such men will have much to answer for on the day of judgment, for they will not only have the blood of their brethren on their hands, but also the blood of Jesus!!
There are congregations within the very same city who refuse fellowship to one another; indeed, who regularly condemn one another from their pulpits. Perhaps one group has a fellowship hall, thus is consigned to hell by the group who believes such structures are "unauthorized." The group with the fellowship hall, in turn, condemns the group that uses instrumental music in their worship, believing such "innovation" to be "unauthorized." The group using instruments in their worship assembly, in turn, condemns the group across town using drama to enhance the morning message. And on and on and on we go; men rebuilding barriers Jesus died to break down; placing people behind party perimeters, when our Lord shed His blood to set men free; forbidding fellowship, when the Son went to the cross to establish it; creating enmity, when our Savior gave His life to bring peace! What blasphemy!! If such behavior does not bring a blush to our faces, then we may well be beyond hope! "Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen" (Jer. 6:15; 8:12).
Those persons and groups who continue to fragment the Family of God by fostering feuding factions, do so, at least in part, because they do not have a clue as to the true mission of the Messiah. They operate counter to His divine purpose -- which is to make men ONE. "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt. 19:6). This principle obviously has no meaning for such persons. What the Son of God died to bring together, these men live to tear apart, and, to their eternal shame, they build these barriers "to the glory of" the very One who died to break them down. The sad fact that they cannot perceive their error only shows the enormous depth of the deception that has engulfed their hearts and minds. Truly such men and women are under that awful "deluding influence" Paul spoke of in 1 Thess. 2:11. No rational person would behave as they do ... or with such arrogant impiety! Such attitudes and actions can only be explained as the visible evidence of the power of Satan at work in his servants who are disguised as disciples of Christ.
My declared purpose in life, at least in large part, has always been, and will always be (Lord willing), to do all in my power to help my beloved brethren perceive the true mission of the Messiah, to chip away daily at the barriers that have been erected among fellow disciples of Christ in godless opposition to the mission and purpose of our Savior. I long for unity among all God's children, regardless of their differing personal preferences and practices. I petition the Father daily to open doors of opportunity to me, and to others of like-conviction, that we may, by His strength, be successful, a little here and a little there, in tearing down these dividing walls, freeing the captives, and bringing brethren together in sweet fellowship.
These weekly Reflections are being used by God toward that goal in a dramatic way that I could never have imagined two and a half years ago when I sent out my first issue. I never dreamed that the readers would swell to such enormous numbers the world over, but, then, I suppose I underestimated both the power of my God and the hunger of His children for unity. I am learning, slowly but surely, never to limit the power and grace of our Father. They are limitless!! He proves it daily. May God help us all to resolve to be part of God's BRIDGE building crew, rather than part of Satan's BARRIER building crew. The long-term benefits are much better for those on the former team than for those on the latter.
A blood soaked brow pressed by a crown;
Briars and thistles brought walls tumbling down.
Slave and free, Greek and Jew;
Factions made futile, family made new.
"Father, forgive them," He whispered above,
Looking on hatred, pouring forth love.
Agony and suffering, misery and pain;
Stripes for our healing, death for our gain.
A criminal's cross, a rich man's tomb,
A stone at the door, deepening the gloom.
The heavens went dark, the earth felt a quake;
God came to man, gave His life for our sake.
I view His passion through eyes filled with tears,
Yet know His gift will endure through the years.
'Twas for freedom He died, thus in freedom I live.
To see others free, my life would I give.
Liberty is costly, the price was God's Son.
A life given freely; a victory won.
My pledge to the Father, my pledge to His Son:
I'll work with Your people, I'll help them be ONE.
From a Minister in Mississippi:
Bravo, Al, Bravo! I have just two observations: (1) If the men who signed this document feel the need to scramble now to explain WHY they signed it, then I think they made a mistake in signing it in the first place. (2) If this document is not set out as a creed, but just an expression of thought on these matters, then why buy a page in the Christian Chronicle and web space for further discussion? Do these men not know that these very same issues have been hashed out 500 times in various forums and in papers of every kind? No, this was not to promote discussion. Discussion has never stopped on these issues. This is very simply a CREED designed to head off the push for unity in the year 2006 between the Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ -- the 100 year "anniversary" of the debacle that separated us in the first place in 1906. That is just my opinion.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Well, Al, you have really outdone yourself on this one!! I read that Affirmation in the Christian Chronicle, and when I had finished I said to myself, "It's the same old same old. We're right, everyone else is wrong." Our problem is -- we've developed an idol called "the church." Jesus is a by-product, the "one true church" is our savior. "He/she left the church" is our watch-word, not "he/she left Jesus." Keep up the good work, brother. You will not be appreciated by some, but don't let that keep you from proclaiming "good news." Jesus is our Savior! He is our unity! Why we have missed that vital truth can only be attributed to the blindness Satan has inflicted upon us.
From a Minister in Texas:
I totally agree with you, Leroy Garrett, and Edward Fudge on your reviews of the "Affirmation." I honestly could not have signed it as it was written. I taught our Sunday evening assembly recently on unity, stressing Paul's teaching on the principles of diversity versus conformity (in matters of opinion and personal scruples). Which early church sets the "pattern?" The Jewish church? The Gentile church? They couldn't get along together either! Unity is found only in Christ, and only made possible by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I heard Leroy Garrett say this past Sunday, while speaking to the A & M church in College Station, that Rom. 15:7 should be one of the resounding cries of the Churches of Christ -- "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Amen!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Bro. Al, your comments on "The Christian Affirmation" were incredible! I too was totally taken back by the lack of the Grace of God in that affirmation. What further disturbed me was the comment by Allan J. McNicol -- "Yes, Jesus is central, but the salvation He brings becomes operative in baptism and the Lord's Supper." Are we evolving into a miniature Catholic Church where the "sacraments" save us? I thought the Lord's Supper was a simple memorial feast, reflecting on the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. Have I been missing something these 42 years?! The Lord's Supper does not save me, it reminds me. Why do we exalt the rituals and the patterns, but not Jesus Christ? Once again, I really enjoyed your analysis, and you made some stunning points!! Thanks for all of your efforts, brother!!
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, That was one big nail you hit with the hammer. Just keep it up. Over the last ten years or so I have watched the Churches of Christ continue to split here in our city. Our hermeneutic is killing us! Allow me an observation -- All this division is a full frontal attack by the very devil himself to cause us to lose our focus on becoming more like Jesus. With our focus on doctrine (I think you know what I mean), we set aside the challenge of looking into the heart of Jesus. Instead, we are fighting over LAW. Good grief, Charlie Brown. I pray that God, in His own providential way, will wake us up to the real issue -- LOVE. Also, quite frankly, I was SHOCKED at some of the names that were on that list of 24 signers. I thought we were making more progress than that.
From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:
I missed the Affirmation in the Christian Chronicle, but linked to their web site and read it. I find your comments interesting and am very much in agreement with you. After reading the Affirmation, my immediate reaction was that we have finally been honest enough to write down a CREED. We have become like the rest of the denominational world: lifting up the body rather than the head. I believe the Affirmation will indeed become the "creed" and test of fellowship that at least some of the signers did not intend. Over all, I am not impressed with the document and am disappointed in the signatories. I fear this will become another ephod to be used in a divisive manner, though that may not have been its intent.
From a Reader in Florida:
Dear Brother Al, I enjoyed reading this review of yours regarding the Christian Affirmation. You and I do not always see everything alike, but on many, many things we see things almost exactly the same. However, even when I do not see eye-to-eye with you, you are still my brother in Christ Jesus. I sincerely hope that the "affirmation" that these men have made does NOT become our "creed" in the Churches of Christ.
From a Minister in Mississippi:
Al, I appreciate your review of the Christian Affirmation. I would echo most of your concerns, especially where you point out what the Affirmation does not say. These are legitimate concerns, especially your fears about how others might "read" the document and come away thinking of it as just another sectarian document. However, I chose to become an "add on" signer via the web site. I did so, not because I favor rampant "patternism," or because I thought the document was perfect in its construction and statement. Rather, I thought it was a worthy start, and because I took the document at its "word" that there was no intent to "articulate the Christian faith in its fullness." Rather, the document was narrowly intentional in that it addressed beliefs and practices that now suffer challenge or neglect. I saw the Affirmation as a beginning place for legitimate discussion. We must start somewhere, and there are good reasons to support our historic practices, both biblical and practical. I plan to use it as a springboard from which to engage people in personal discussions.
You are correct to issue your concerns and warnings, for I believe they are legitimate. I would only say that for some of us, the Affirmation, imperfect document though it is, serves as a way to present our beliefs and practices in a way that engages us in discussion with others. As always, brother, whether I fully agree with you or not, I admire and appreciate your work and the great service you are providing through your studies and opinions. If the goal is to make people think, then score another success! I hope, in some small way, I can encourage thought in a slightly different direction on this one, knowing that all of your concerns are well-founded. Just grant to those of us who chose to sign the affirmation the benefit of the doubt. I think a lot of us are just as concerned about grace and helping people follow Jesus as Savior and Lord as anyone. Legalism is not our thing!
From a Beloved Brotherhood Leader in Texas:
Bravo, Max! A superb analysis. Interesting about your comment on the Kuhn quote. I was going to say the exact same thing you did in my review, but I kept it as lean as possible. You have many who appreciate your efforts.
From a Reader in Missouri:
Brother Al, After reading the "Christian Affirmation," and then reading your comments on it, I tend to agree with you. Being a Christian for 46 years now, I had always thought that restoration was a good idea, but now that we have 21 or more "sects" of the Church of Christ, I can see that you are right -- it is destroying us. Some denominations even call us a cult. You make some really good points about the "Christian Affirmation." It could actually evolve into a creed, if they are not careful. I think the Campbells and Stone would be shocked and dismayed if they could see the state of the Church of Christ right now. They thought like you. They fellowshipped all true believers in Jesus Christ, and didn't go around bashing and condemning all the other denominations. My wife and I live in a small Missouri town where the church is ultra-conservative and condemns all other churches and religions. That makes it hard to do evangelism here because everyone knows that. Sometimes it makes me feel ashamed to tell people that I go there. At my mother's funeral 3 years ago, the preacher condemned the denominational people who were present, and said that she would agree with him. I was incensed, and blasted him about it, but most of the church agreed with him. Some of those people who came to the funeral "will NEVER (this is their quote) go to another Church of Christ" because of his sermon. God help his wretched soul on Judgment Day.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Bro. Al, I cannot help but wonder how many of the 24 signers of that document felt compelled to do so in order to keep their positions. Otherwise, why would these men feel compelled to "clarify" their positions later in other statements? Also, if it is so necessary to restore the 1st century "pattern," then we must abandon our 4-part harmony tradition! That would not go over so well, now would it?! My study of church history indicates that they chanted back then more than sang in the manner that we so fervently defend today. I agree with you that what needs to be restored is the love, the self-sacrifice, and the desire to mimic Christ Jesus.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Bravo, brother Al. You said what needed to be said, and you said it well.
From a Reader in Florida:
Dear Al, Your article "Breakfast on the Beach" was exactly what I needed to read this very night! For several years I have been having major health problems and have become mentally and physically weary -- which also has affected how I feel spiritually. I do not have the same energy and stamina as in the past, and believe I am letting that hinder me from doing what I know God has called me to do and be in life. However, I know the Lord is who He says He is, that He can do what He says He can do, and that I can do all things through Christ. I know that God's Word is true, and I also know that I am a child of God and that He dearly loves me. Yet, today I found myself asking, "Lord, do I really love You? Do I love You as deeply as I should? Would I be willing to die rather deny my faith in You?" I thought, "I'm not sure that I wouldn't do as Peter did if I was in a similar situation." Your prayer at the end of your Reflections article brought tears to my eyes and lifted my spirit. "That so clearly expresses the desire of my own heart," I thought. ''Lord, that is also my prayer!" Thank you very much for letting the beauty of Jesus be seen in you, and for so ably sharing your knowledge of God's Word!
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