Issue #197 -------
July 5, 2005
My writings oft displease you: what's the matter?
You love not to hear truth, nor I to flatter.
Sir John Harington (1561-1612)
As more and more people subscribe to these Reflections, and then share them with friends and loved ones, it is only logical to expect they would in time come to the attention of disciples who would take exception to some of the views and concepts expressed therein. Recently, three separate ministers in the Churches of Christ, all of whom are subscribers to these weekly articles, have reviewed various points they perceive me to have made in recent editions of Reflections. Their reviews have appeared in three different brotherhood publications, all of which were brought to my attention within the space of about a week. I welcome such reviews, by the way, as I believe they lead to opportunities for greater dialogue among brethren who differ, and also because they, hopefully, open doors to better understanding and, prayerfully, increased unity among discerning disciples intent upon busting barriers and building bridges. I have no doubt that each of these men are devoted proclaimers of God's Truth (to the best of their understanding of that Truth), intent upon furthering His cause to the best of their individual abilities and opportunities, just as I am. In their respective articles they each voice concerns that I will seek to address briefly in this current edition of my Reflections. It is my prayer this response will both clarify my own position and challenge the thinking of these fellow laborers in the Lord's vineyard.
Confessions of a "Patternist"
In the June, 2005 issue of Rocky Mountain Christian (vol. 33, no. 7, p. 2), Guy Orbison, Jr., who is the preacher for the Church of Christ in Durango, Colorado (a beautiful town just east of Cortez, Colorado; Cortez being where my parents live, and where my dad has served as one of the elders for many years), wrote an article with the above title. He begins his piece with this statement, "A few articles have recently crossed my desk having to do with 'New Testament Patterns of Christianity.' Some preachers no longer believe that God has a pattern for us to follow. A new, derogatory term is being applied to those among us who see something of a pattern in what God has given in Scripture. These are now being called 'Patternists,' along with the misconstrued monikers of 'Legalists' and 'Traditionalists.'"
Those familiar with me personally, or with my writings over the years, know that I am no fan of legalistic, patternistic theology. Since my Reflections seemingly cross Guy's desk on a regular basis, it seems rather apparent, although I am not mentioned by name, that my opposition to such theology and practice is at least partly the motivation for this brother's recent article. Brother Orbison is a regular contributor to Rocky Mountain Christian, and has a monthly column called "Inside the Earthen Vessel," which I have almost always found very insightful and uplifting. Indeed, I appreciated this present article as well. I thought Guy made some excellent observations, and I found little with which to differ. There are some points made therein, however, that I think may require some additional clarification by me, both for Guy's enlightenment and that of his readers.
Guy wrote that with respect to certain monikers (i.e., "Legalist," "Traditionalist," "Patternist"), "I have wrestled with which label actually applies to me." Bro. Orbison is not alone. I think we have all, at one time or another, wondered which, if any, of the countless characterizations cast frequently about the brotherhood might aptly apply to us individually. Some of these labels are so subjective in nature that they may or may not apply depending on the definition of the one employing them. For example, I have been called both a "Liberal" and a "Conservative" on the same issue on the same day by two different persons. Like Bro. Orbison, I have often evaluated myself and my teaching in light of such monikers, and, frankly, I see aspects of most all such labels that would apply to me, and aspects that clearly do not. I thought Guy made this point very well in his article.
"Some preachers no longer believe that God has a pattern for us to follow," wrote Bro. Orbison. This is certainly true. Some preachers don't believe that. It is not true of Al Maxey, however! I firmly believe that our Father does have a "pattern" for His children to follow, I just don't happen to believe it is the same pattern as that promoted by some within Churches of Christ. There is a clear distinction between God's pattern and their pattern, in my view. I dealt with this very distinction in some depth in my article Pondering Patternism --- Reflections #130 --- which I would encourage the readers to examine carefully at this point. After all, Guy wrote, in his own article referenced above, "Defining terms can be very helpful." Absolutely! For those who may not be able to access Issue #130, or who don't have the time or inclination to go there, notice a few of my comments from that reflective study:
It appears, from his article, that Guy Orbison actually agrees with me on this point. He wrote, "Although I believe in God's pattern, I do not want to make my opinions out to be doctrine and bind them on others as the only way. If 'patternist' is used in this sense of binding our opinions, then we must find a new label to describe me." Yes, Guy confesses to being a "patternist" if it is God's clearly specified pattern that is in view. If by "patternist" one means those who seek to impose human assumptions and traditions upon others before the right hand of fellowship will be extended (and this is the sense in which I use the term), then Guy has no desire to be so characterized. Neither does Al Maxey! The same is true with respect to other labels --- "Legalist," for example. Guy wrote, "A 'legalist' is one who thinks that law keeping is the means to salvation. Since I know that God only saves us by grace through faith, then I cannot assume this title." Neither can Al Maxey!
I suspect Guy may have seen some of my articles (and others like mine) "crossing" his desk, articles in which a hard stand was taken against legalistic patternism, and just assumed that "a new, derogatory term" was being employed against "those among us who see something of a pattern in what God has given in Scripture." It is my hope and prayer that my fellow minister of the gospel, who dynamically serves the Lord in Durango, after this current article crosses his desk, may come to realize that he and I are really preaching and teaching the very same biblical truths.
What Is Your Faith-Heritage?
In the June 9, 2005 issue of a publication known as Forthright Magazine, Bro. Mitchell Skelton penned a brief response to the above question (which was also the title of his article). He began his article with these words, "Among our brethren today you hear people talking about our 'faith-heritage,' or being a part of the 'Stone-Campbell Movement.' What is all this about?" It does not take the reader long to realize that these terms greatly trouble Mitchell. "In reality, these terms and others like them are code words used by men who believe and teach that the church of Christ is just another denomination." Bro. Mitchell then provides a fairly lengthy quote from the writings of "one such man who espouses this belief." That quote is taken from one of my earlier Reflections. Thus, although Bro. Skelton does not name me, it is obvious I am the focus of his ire in this article.
"Make no mistake, when these men use the phrase 'my faith-heritage' it is simply code for 'denomination,'" writes Bro. Mitchell. "Those who wish to see the church of Christ acknowledged as a denomination are distancing themselves from the doctrines of the church while clinging to its members all at the same time." Therefore, not only is this brother professing to know exactly what others mean when they use this phrase ("faith-heritage"), but he also begins to question even their motives and integrity. Their "wish" (desire) is to see the Churches of Christ "acknowledged as a denomination." Further, they are turning away from doctrine, but clinging to disciples (presumably so they may continue fleecing the flock while surreptitiously consorting with wolves). This is reading a great deal into terms and phrases such as "faith-heritage" and "Stone-Campbell Movement," it seems to me.
The now infamous "Christian Affirmation 2005" begins with this bold statement -- "Churches of Christ are part of the American Restoration Movement." This is an affirmation of fact that many are seemingly reluctant to acknowledge. Perhaps they fear such an admission in some way denominationalizes us, and renders void our claim to BE, to the exclusion of every other Christian group on the face of the planet, The One True Church. There is nothing shameful, however, in the admission that we, in the Churches of Christ, have unique historical roots. All groups within Christendom do. Jeff Peterson, in his published reply to Leroy Garrett, even characterized us as "Churches of the Restoration tradition." This is just an admission of historical reality. Dr. Carlus Gupton, a professor at Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tennessee, did some excellent research into the dynamics of Interim Ministries in local congregations, and in the course of that study made the following comment -- "The transition period often provides opportunities for a congregation to redefine or reaffirm its connection to a faith heritage, which for Churches of Christ is the Restoration Movement." Again, this is just a statement of historical fact, and there should be nothing shameful or heretical in such an affirmation. Even Pepperdine University, on its web site, speaks repeatedly, and in bold print, of its "Faith Heritage," and its continuing commitment to this noble heritage. It is a very common concept, and one would have to have lived his life in a cave not to know that it is often used in reference to our historical roots in Churches of Christ.
Like Bro. Mitchell Skelton, I have no desire whatsoever to denominationalize the universal church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Men have been doing that for centuries, but I personally am devoted to exposing, opposing and rebuking such nonsense; I have no desire to promote it in any way. The inspired Scriptures make it very clear there is only "one body" (Eph. 4:4), and attempts to partition this one body into squabbling sectarian segments is nothing less than Satanic, in my view. Yes, denominationalism is demonic! I don't know how to assert that fact any more strongly than I just did. For someone to suggest that those of us who acknowledge the historical facts of our heritage of faith in Churches of Christ are thereby teaching "that the church of Christ is just another denomination" is a grave misrepresentation of our true view of His church.
The group known as "Churches of Christ," whether we want to admit it or not, is a product of the American Stone-Campbell Movement. That is simply a fact. I personally am not ashamed of my association with this heritage; I was born into it, and later chose to continue within its ranks. I am a member of the One Body, the church universal, as are all others on the face of the earth who are in Christ Jesus. I have chosen voluntarily, however, to work and worship with the group known as Churches of Christ. After much study and reflection I find this heritage of faith most nearly agrees with my own understanding of God's expectations for His people. Thus, although I am a member of the One Body, I choose to affiliate myself with the group known as Churches of Christ. I do NOT equate the two, however, as do some of my brethren -- a position which I believe to be nothing less than sectarian. The biblical reality is that there is only One Flock, but our One Shepherd has many folds. Similarly, there are 50 states in the United States, but we are One Nation under God. There is only One Church, but our Lord has faithful servants that come from many different historical backgrounds. My "faith heritage" is with the group known as Churches of Christ, but my citizenship is in the kingdom of my God, in union with His Son, a member of His One Body universal.
Mitchell further observed in his above mentioned article, "One who studies their Bible should know that it is not our choice what church we are a part of when we become a Christian. .... Therefore, you are a member of the church of Christ, not a 'faith-heritage,' not a 'movement,' you are part of the body of Christ." I agree 100% with what he wrote. As previously noted, there is only One Body, and it is His. Thus, it is indeed within the church of our Lord Jesus Christ that ALL the redeemed of all time are numbered. Those who have submitted to Him are then numbered with them (their fellow disciples). This is a great spiritual reality that truly transcends earthly associations, although these associations will be greatly beneficial to us.
The reality to which Bro. Mitchell Skelton seems woefully ignorant, however, is that those who are now joined with Christ Jesus and numbered in that great eternal, universal One Body, will then need to seek out association with other disciples of Christ. Whether Mitchell likes it or not, this involves a choice. There are literally hundreds and thousands of differing faith traditions and heritages from which to choose --- the Churches of Christ being just one of them. And if one chooses this group, then one will further need to choose from among the dozens of factions within this group. These are choices that largely have to do with both faith and heritage, as well as personal preferences and perceptions and comfort zones. Yes, it is sad that Christendom is so divided between traditions, but that is the reality of our times. To then suggest, as Mitchell and those like him seem to suggest, that one faction of one segment of one movement is THE one true church on planet earth, and all others are digressive denominations, is simply an arrogant absurdity. The reality, as Scripture clearly teaches, is that our Shepherd has many folds in which His sheep are to be found, but only one flock. When we are added to the Lord, we are also numbered among that great universal, eternal One Flock. To equate that One Flock with a single fold is folly, and this is exactly what Mitchell has done. This is sectarianism. There is nothing wrong with the Lord's sheep being in different folds; what is wrong is when one fold declares itself the flock to the exclusion of all other folds. I pray that my brother in Christ will awaken to this truth! There is a distinction between a fold and a denomination, one Mitchell as apparently failed to perceive.
Fellowship -- Why the Confusion?
Brian Yeager, a young minister who has for years been a staunch critic of my work, is the editor of a publication known as Words of Truth. The above caption is the title of an article he wrote which appeared in the May 29, 2005 issue of that magazine (volume 5, issue 35). Brian, who has recently moved to El Paso, Texas to work with a small ultra-conservative congregation there, sent me this article as a response to and refutation of my "error" on the concept of Unity in Diversity.
True unity will always be a unity in diversity. There is no other kind! The alternative is uniformity, and that is simply NOT taught in Scripture as a viable option in the Body of Christ Jesus. Indeed, even a cursory examination of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 will clearly display the concept of unity in diversity. We are one body (unity), but some are hands, some are feet, some are eyes, some are ears (diversity). If the whole physical body was only an ear, it would be a dysfunctional freak (uniformity)! The reality is: there is room in the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ for many different types of disciples, with differing understandings and preferences and even practices. The essentials revolve around our union with HIM (the head), not with uniformity among disciples (hands, feet, ears, etc.). Where the former is promoted there will be peace, where the latter is promoted there will only be warring factions.
I suggested above that perhaps Brian had never come across the teaching of Paul in Romans 14. Actually, this brother has examined that teaching, but has failed to grasp the spiritual significance of it. In his article he describes the concept of unity in diversity as a "perversion of Romans 14." Indeed, in the conclusion to his article, Brian states, "That chapter is not about weak faith, but about one's weak conscience." I'm not sure what translation Brian is using, but mine reads, "Now accept the one who is weak IN FAITH, ... One man has FAITH that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only" (vs. 1-2). I see the word "faith," but don't see the word "conscience." In vs. 22 Paul writes, "The FAITH which you have, have as your own conviction before God." In the next verse (vs. 23) Paul writes, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from FAITH; and whatever is not from FAITH is sin." I have read this chapter many times; I have yet to find the word "conscience." The issues discussed by Paul were matters of faith to these saints. Nevertheless, they could have differing convictions and still be united in One Body. THAT, my friends, is unity in diversity. For Brian to declare such to be contrary to the teaching of both Jesus and Paul, and "impossible so far as God is concerned," merely demonstrates his own lack of understanding.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
You never know when you will at last "teach an old dog a new trick," but you succeeded in your last article, brother! What a refreshing look at the Lord's Supper. I never considered the Scriptural implications of Sunday evening Communion before, but I guarantee I will from now on. You get no argument from me about suggesting that ALL of the congregation join in again on Sunday evening with Communion -- after all, isn't that what "communion" IS by definition? Glad to have you back!
From a Minister in Florida:
As usual, you presented some very good thoughts on the "second serving" controversy. In the congregation where I worship, we offer the "second serving" in the assembly. We all sing a "communion" song and we encourage everyone to focus on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Although only a few are physically eating and drinking, everyone is in "communion" in thought with those who are eating, and in this way everyone is communing together. I believe it is a much better way to deal with this situation than the "traditional practice" (a few in a back room). I also agree that there is nothing wrong with everyone eating the second time. Keep up the good work.
From a Minister in Texas:
We all suffer from "Reflectionus Withdrawalitis Maxeyus" when you ain't around. Glad your trip was safe, and if you come through the city of Lubbock on your way to Denton and do not stop ... you are in deep trouble. God bless!!
From a Reader in California:
Bro. Al, Regarding your comments in the "Second Serving Controversy" -- my long-held sentiments exactly! Thank you for putting it so succinctly for us. I fear that many (most) of the people warming the church benches have no idea how many of our "sacraments" are borrowed or brought down from our ancestors who were very often associated in some way with the Roman Catholic Church via ancestors who came from those countries where Catholicism was taught and believed. I am not at all sure that my parents, who abhorred Catholicism, did not go to their graves thinking exactly as you have stated in your article, that "grace was conferred to the recipient" each and every Lord's Day during the Communion service. The only difference was that we had a "layman" presiding at the table, saying Grace over it, and watching to see who partook of it (or, more to the point, who failed to partake of it). I surely enjoyed your remarks on this subject. I have passed this Reflections on to my kids, who were taught very well by some of the same ignorant teachers that I had. Hope they "get the point."
From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:
Al, I've received your articles for a while now, and find them very helpful. I often share them with others. This last article was very helpful, and very unique. When I first began it, I thought it was going in an entirely different direction! I, too, share with you the idea that if we must have a second serving, then why not let us all share again? However, I was hoping you would have addressed a problem more particular to the church I'm at (and, I'm sure, at many other churches also). What do we do about the 5% of our people who use the Lord's Supper as a way to hold the other 95% hostage to the Sunday evening service so that the Lord's Supper is available to those who missed it? One member's 50 year old daughter is a nurse, has been for 30 years, and must work on Sunday mornings (once a month). This member's mother holds that we must have a Sunday evening service every week so that her daughter can have the Lord's Supper if she has to work. This probably goes along with the sacramental idea, although these people would deny it. The leaders have given in to this complaining, even though most of the members in the congregation do not want the extra service, but feel obligated to come back. Do you have any suggestions about this situation? Thanks for your great work!
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Thanks for your thoughts on the "second serving." I have, within the past few years, had the same thoughts as you about the Sunday night serving of Communion. On Sunday nights our church offers small groups throughout our community. The small group that I lead has made it a practice that if one person "needs" to take Communion then we all take Communion. Thanks for all of your Reflections.
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Dear Al, I concur with having the Lord's Supper served to all on Sunday evening. I attended a congregation in Montana for a time that did just that on Sunday night; all of the members took part, not just the ones who weren't able to be there on Sunday morning. I thought it a unique and wonderful way to include everyone.
From a Minister in Mississippi:
Al, I couldn't agree with your conclusions any stronger!! Our congregation participates in "Life Groups" each Sunday evening. Our individual group made a decision very early on that, if someone was absent during the morning assembly, we would serve, and all participate in, a "second serving," but we also explain to any new member or visitor that they are under no obligation to participate if their conscience would not allow it. I also have begun to believe, and share this view with others, that a "second serving" does indeed promote a "sacramental view of the Lord's Supper." Thus, it seems to me, it can become just another check-off on the patternist's to-do list for the week. God bless, brother, and soldier on!
From a Doctor in Alabama:
Al, thanks so very much for addressing this controversy with simple logic and reasoning from the Scriptures. I too feel the most appropriate approach for offering the Lord's Supper at the Sunday evening service is to do so for everyone present -- whether they have already "partook" that day or not. By the way, if the "pattern" restricts the partaking of this meal to only once a day, by what logic would this same restrictive "pattern" not apply to "second helpings" of the other "acts of worship" which were already performed during the morning service, i.e. singing, praying, giving and preaching? Thanks for the good work you are doing, brother.
From a Minister in Arizona:
Al, I agree thoroughly with your affirmation that you are the furtherest thing from a legalist. You represent the opposite point of the pendulum's swing. You are just as far from the middle road of Truth as the rabid legalist is.
From a One Cup Minister in Missouri:
My Beloved Brother! Here are comments regarding you from my wife --- "Brother Al Maxey is very informed. Boy, don't we need a lot of Al's in this brotherhood. I really would like the chance to meet him and his family one of these days." I'm going to have to make my wife's wish of meeting you and your family come true; hey, that's my wish too. Thanks to you, Jimmy Albert, and Dallas Burdette she is really growing in her understanding. Brother, I'm so happy that I'm not enslaved to this Pharisaic system and mindset any longer. Keep on keeping on, brother Al!
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Okay, Maxey ... one or the other of us is in trouble. You expressed exactly the position concerning the "Second Serving" that I have held for at least 25 years. Are you like me? ... or am I like you?!!
From a Reader in Hawaii:
Al, I agree wholeheartedly with you in every respect and wish we would practice two servings of the Lord's Supper with the entire congregation on Sundays. I pray that this latest Reflections on the second serving will reach the hearts of at least a few who need to hear it. Thanks!
From a Minister in Texas:
Brother Al, That was a good article; interesting for the legalistic bent. I agree with your opinion that we all should partake of the Supper in the evening as well as the morning. I have thought this is true for a number of years, but legalistic restraints have prevented it from happening. I also agree with you about taking the Supper to the sick. It should be a community affair, rather than individual, or not done at all. A number of years ago I attended a college lectureship. I got there in the late afternoon on a Sunday. That evening they offered the Supper back stage for those who had not taken it. It was then that I really started to think that something was missing (or wrong) in doing it this way. So, I'm glad others are thinking this way as well. Until we get away from the individual idea, and see the Supper as a community event, we will still have these problems. Thanks again for highlighting this. It needs to be said!!
From a Minister in the Philippines:
Brother Al, Thank you for your continuous sending of your Reflections. I appreciate it. May God bless you and keep you.
From a Minister in Texas:
Al, Like my friend, Leroy Garrett, you have a guest room here in Cleburne, Texas awaiting you. Our friends say this "Bed and Breakfast" feeds very well. Would love to meet you, and have some time to visit. Consider it if you are ever down this way. The Miranda Street congregation in Las Cruces, New Mexico divided over the "second serving" while I lived there. Several of their members came to Panlaner, where I was preaching. We did not encourage it, however, and tried our best to stay out of their business. Maurice Barnett of Arizona promoted it. Ed McCaskle was the local preacher there. So tragic to divide over such things!!
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Amazing! Yesterday I was surfing the web and decided to see what was available about Leroy Garrett. There I noticed your Reflections #195 -- "Response to a Reply." I stopped surfing and decided to read a little. I was intrigued by what I read and decided to ask that my name be added to your mailing list. Which you graciously did. That same evening your Issue #196 -- "The Second Serving Controversy" arrived in my "in box." I was so amazed to get it, because I have just recently (the last two or three months) been considering this very issue. I call it having "left overs." Over all, I like your response to the issue. I think you nailed it when you said that "we may well be promoting, albeit unwittingly, a sacramental view of the Lord's Supper."
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I have just in the last week or so discovered your web site, and your insightful Reflections articles. My congregation in the Houston area has recently merged with what we're now discovering is a congregation that is very legalistic and patternistic in thinking. We were already a "conservative" group, but when you bring conservative brethren together with "ultra-conservative" brethren the result is still divisive ... Oh the joys of patternism! Your articles have been a God-send to me, and I pray they will help me in dealing with the extreme patternists that are now integrated into my hometown church. In our first months together, the issue of hand-clapping has already become a divisive issue. Thanks for your articles and the guidance you provide!
From a Prison Minister in Oklahoma:
Brother Al, I have felt like something has been wrong in my life for several months, and your "Second Serving" Reflections article has correctly identified the problem for me --- I've had entirely too much of a good thing. You see, I preach for a small congregation in the hill country of eastern Oklahoma. We observe the Lord's Supper with them each Sunday morning (the first serving of the Supper). On the way back to our home, over 60 miles away, I stop off at the prison and conduct a worship assembly there for about 50 Christian inmates. I take communion with these brothers also (a second serving of the Supper). I have also been known to stop on the way home from the prison to visit with a dear shut-in lady, and we also take Communion (a third serving of the Supper) and pray together. It is no wonder that Sundays are so tiring for me; just too much of a good thing!! I do hope you can see the "tongue in cheek" here. To those who find this excessive participation in the Lord's Supper, come join me some Sunday, and if you do not end the day dog tired but glad to be a servant, I'll conduct your funeral at no charge. Keep up the good, thought-provoking work, Al. You are loved for it!
From a Reader in California:
Brother Al, I REALLY liked your solution to the "second serving" dilemma. In fact, I have taken (I hope you're sitting down) the Lord's Supper TWICE on one Sunday. In fact, I have done it on more than one occasion. I have trouble fathoming why someone would see this as being sinful in any way. As far as the "carried Communion" is concerned, I believe this is a practice that, if done for the right reasons, can be a blessing to those who participate. This is another time that I took the Lord's Supper more than once on a Sunday. Thank you again for this ministry of yours. I thank God for your efforts!
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