by Al Maxey

Issue #200 ------- July 21, 2005
The world order is a unity
made up of multiplicity.

Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180)

Unity or Uniformity?
A Distressing Dialogue

If you will indulge me, let me begin on a personal note. I think it is only fitting that Issue #200 of these Reflections is being sent out on our 32nd wedding anniversary! On July 21, 1973 Shelly and I exchanged our marriage vows in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Over three decades later, after having served the Lord in many locations, both here and abroad, we find ourselves back in the Land of Enchantment, just 200 miles south of where our journey together began! If not for the grace of God, the raising and prayers of devoted Christian parents, and the love and strength of a noble wife, who loved me in spite of myself, I would not be here today. My Reflections ministry was born largely through the encouragement of Shelly, who felt I had something worthwhile to offer, and urged me to step out confidently in faith regardless of the personal consequences. The response to these writings is beyond anything I could have imagined, and I am thankful to God for blessing me with a woman who never stopped believing in me, and who urged me to keep on keeping on, even when under fire from friend and foe alike. Without her, and without Him, there never would have been an Issue #1, much less an Issue #200. And to you, the readers, my heartfelt thanks for your support of this ministry. Through you this message of God's grace is being shared with thousands of people throughout the world. Only eternity will reveal the hearts that have been touched and the lives that have been changed through your participation in this effort.

I get a considerable amount of letters, emails, and phone calls as a result of these Reflections. Most are fairly positive in nature; some call or write because they have a personal problem and seek advice or counsel. Others are desirous of coming out of the oppression of legalism and don't quite know how to go about it. Some are preachers or elders who are intent upon helping their congregations find freedom in Christ and the liberty of God's grace. There are a few readers, to be perfectly honest, who would probably blindly accept and gladly agree with just about anything I said, no matter what it might be, which prompts me to take extra special care in what I write. On the other hand, there are a few who will just as gladly denounce anything I say as godless heresy and apostasy. After every article I can always expect to hear from one or more of them. One reader has even informed me that he will never cease his efforts to completely destroy me and my ministry, no matter what he has to do to accomplish it. I can't help but think of the Jews "who formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul" (Acts 23:12). I often wonder how long these more than 40 men went before they gave in and had a meal!! Such obsessions are not only perverse, but pathetic! How Satan must rejoice that he has such workers of wickedness in his possession.

Anyway, the point is: I get all kinds of responses to these Reflections, and I appreciate them all, for I believe we can learn and profit from one another, not only those who agree with us, but also, and perhaps especially, from those who do not. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). There is an older brother in Christ who lives in Alabama who has for quite some time taken exception to much of what I teach. Nevertheless, he has always sought to be fairly gracious toward me, and I believe he has a genuine concern for my soul. I get something from him several times a week, all in an effort to try and bring me back into the fold of the legalistic, patternistic way of thinking. I, in turn, continue to try and bring him out of it. We differ like night and day, but we have been cordial and respectful, which is how differing brethren should be. In the last few weeks he and I exchanged a few emails in which he made some statements that truly troubled me. Although we discussed them, he remains adamant about these views. The purpose of this present issue of my Reflections is to share some of those shocking statements with you, and my response to them, because they reflect so very well the very mindset I seek to expose as being in opposition to the Truth of God's Word.

The statement from this brother in Alabama that triggered our most recent exchange was the following -- "Before Christian unity can be attained, three persons must be in agreement, namely: you, your brother, and the Lord." This rather bold declaration immediately captured my attention. In this statement, "Christian unity" is clearly declared to be conditioned upon achieving a state of agreement. The immediate question that comes to mind is -- agreement upon what? And what degree of agreement is deemed acceptable? The implication seems to be: complete agreement. It is very easy to suggest brethren must be in agreement, but it is far more difficult to enumerate the specifics upon which they must agree in order to achieve this "Christian unity," and to specify exactly what degree of diversity will be allowed for "Christian unity" to still be attained and maintained (if, indeed, any diversity or disagreement is tolerated).

Naturally, any rational, reasoning being would want to know, in some detail, what this person had in mind when he stated we must agree, and exactly what parameters were in view. Thus, I wrote this brother in Alabama and said, "I have for years been asking the following of those who make the above assertion: Would/could you provide me with a detailed, exhaustive list of exactly what brethren must agree upon in order to have true Christian unity?" I felt this to be a rather reasonable request. After all, if indeed this "Christian unity" is based upon agreement, especially if it is based on complete agreement, as was being strongly suggested, then it is only logical to assume that one would need to know with some degree of specificity the details of that upon which they must agree (or at least in what areas diversity of perception and practice was allowed). Additionally, I informed this brother it would be absolutely critical that he NOT leave out any of the specifics, for, after all, if any of the many essentials were omitted, then how could we truly have agreement upon missing items of which we had no knowledge? Where there is no law, there is no sin, Paul says. Thus, any list of legal requirements must be exhaustive. If indeed "Christian unity" IS based on agreement, complete agreement, then the list of items upon which we must agree must of necessity be complete and without omission. After all, would these people regard a person to be saved if an item or two from the "plan of salvation" was omitted? Not likely! Therefore, in like manner, would we truly experience "Christian unity" if any items on the list of essentials upon which we must agree were left out? Again, if they hope to be consistent with their theology, their answer would have to be: "NO ... the list must be complete."

Well, this brother completely ignored my request for this list. Finally, a week later, after nothing but dead silence, I sent him the request once again. The next day he wrote back -- "To sit down and list all of the things we must agree on isn't going to happen. I don't think I would live long enough to do that." Thus, my record remains intact after all these years -- to this day NO such advocate of this theology has ever even attempted to provide me with that list of essentials. As this brother said, "it isn't going to happen." No surprise there, frankly! To his credit, at least he was honest enough to admit it. Sad, though, is it not, that "Christian unity" will never be attained until we all agree, and yet when asked what it is we must agree upon .... they won't tell us!! When pressed, however, this brother from Alabama finally gave the following list of what disciples of Christ Jesus must agree upon (and these are his exact words):

  1. "Everything that our Lord taught while He was on earth, and

  2. Everything that was taught by the apostles thru the book of Revelation."

In other words, folks -- "Read the Bible; figure it out for yourselves!" Let's be honest here, brethren. The harsh reality is this: these legalistic patternists don't have a clue as to the makeup of that list. Indeed, the list grows longer and longer by the day. Why? Because it's comprised largely of personal and party preferences and perceptions, and traditional practices. To write down such a list would immediately expose it as being primarily subjective and sectarian in nature, and that is something they simply can't allow to happen. Thus, no legalistic patternist DARES to compose such a list because they know that the instant they do so their entire law-centered, humanistic theology will crumble around them like a castle of cards. Nothing will cause these men and women to run for cover more quickly than to simply ask them to produce this list of essentials.

These disciples, tragically, can't even agree among themselves as to the nature of this elusive pattern, and yet they will insist to their dying day, and with their dying breath, that only by agreeing on the "pattern" will we ever have "Christian unity." This, brethren, is why they are heralded by some church historians as the most divided and divisive group in Christendom. This theology is foolishness that even a child can see through, yet they are blind to their own folly. Thus, in desperation, when faced with such a challenge to produce such a list, those who bother to respond at all simply declare one must agree with "everything Jesus taught while on earth, and everything the apostles taught thru the book of Revelation." The secret to unity? "Read your Bibles! When we all finally agree with everything in it, from cover to cover, then we'll be united."

This is an impossibility. Put a hundred men and women who hold to this theology in a room and hand them a Bible. Have them read the book of Romans and then begin to question them as to their understanding of what they just read. Does one honestly believe those 100 people will exhibit complete agreement on every aspect of the teaching of Paul in the epistle to the Romans? Broaden that to everything taught by Jesus while He was on earth, and everything taught in the NT documents, and you quickly see the absurdity of such a position. Not even the first century church (which supposedly is our "pattern") was in agreement on everything taught by Jesus or the apostles. And many of them had the benefit of having the apostles right in their midst to question about these matters. And they still couldn't agree!

Brethren, "Christian unity" is NOT, nor has it ever been, based on agreement. What these brethren are really promoting is Uniformity. One of the synonyms for "uniformity," by the way, is "agreement." It is this they truly advocate. Genuine unity -- Christian unity -- is a spiritual oneness in the midst of significant diversity. Those who are bound to LAW simply cannot comprehend, nor do they truly appreciate, a liberty which allows independence of thought and freedom of expression. "If it can't be regulated, it can't be right" is the mantra of militant ignorance! Their focus can be summed up in one word: Law.

This man has failed to perceive where his salvation truly lies. He perceives salvation to lie in searching the Scriptures for LAW, and then in the scrupulous observance of those deduced and assumed legal requirements. He wrote the following shocking statement to me in one of his emails: "The Scriptures are able to save your soul in Christ Jesus." The Scriptures are not able to save anyone's soul; that was never their intent. They merely point to the One who can. The Scriptures are revelatory, NOT redemptive. Hear the words of Jesus -- "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is these that bear witness of ME; and you are unwilling to come to ME that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). This dear brother has made the same mistake as the rigid religionists of Christ's day. They searched the Scriptures looking for LIFE .... and LIFE stood right before them!!

But, it gets even more shocking! The man from Alabama wrote, "Only in God's word is remission of our sins found." Wow! The sound of my jaw hitting the floor could probably be heard all the way to Alabama! He further declared, "We can only maintain our place in the church if we are obedient to all of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles (the NT) until we die." Perfection of law-keeping! Obedience to ALL the laws in ALL of the NT documents ... until we die. Only by such legalistic, patternistic perfection will we "maintain our place in the church" and make it to Heaven! After all, he declared that being in the church (and, of course, he meant our own particular group) "is our only hope of going to Heaven."

Brethren, these are, without a doubt, some of the most distressing statements I have ever read in my life! They absolutely break my heart. In all the correspondence this man and I had over the course of several days, he never once mentioned the words grace or faith. It was all about LAW. All about our own effort to "maintain our place." Human effort will not save us, yet this seems to be just about all this misguided man relies upon! It is one of the most depressing and discouraging discussions I have ever had. I let this elderly gentleman know that I would not cease praying for him, nor will I give up on him. I can't bear the thought of seeing this precious soul severed from Christ and fallen from grace. Legalistic patternism is one of the most devious, devilish delusions ever spewed forth upon mankind by that "serpent of old." Far too many of those in my faith-heritage (not to mention other religious groups) have swallowed this flood of folly like parched ground on a summer day (Rev. 12:15-16).

Each of the statements above show a misplaced trust. Our hope of redemption is not in the church, nor is it in the Scriptures. These have their place and their purpose, but neither were designed to be redemptive. Unity was never intended to be found in agreement with other disciples, or even in perfect understanding of every verse in the Bible. After all, even Peter found some things hard to comprehend in the writings of Paul, yet I don't think we would suggest he was lost until such time as he arrived at perfect perception of all Paul wrote and perfect agreement with everything Paul said. The early disciples often disagreed, but this in no way determined unity .... harmony, perhaps, but not unity. Our Christian unity is in a Person, not in a position, or a preference, or a practice, or a pattern. To trust in the latter will, at best, only lead to a forced uniformity, which is not even remotely the unity our Lord sought for His people.

Please keep this dear brother in Alabama in your prayers. He is a precious soul. Pray also for the countless other disciples who have been blinded to Truth by the delusions of the Evil One. He and his servants are deceptive foes, and some of their best work is done in the guise of proclaimers of light (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Let us each, therefore, continue to fight the good fight of faith, and may we have the boldness to press the battle to the enemy, confronting the falsehoods of this evil serpent whenever and wherever they arise. The lives of our brethren are too precious to do otherwise. May we do so lovingly, but with firmness of conviction and boldness of speech, "snatching them out of the fire" (Jude 23).

Reflections from Readers

From a Minister in India:

Dear Brother, "Mixing Acts of Worship" is a bold article. In many congregations here they struggle with exactly the things you wrote about. I will get this Reflections article printed in English and distribute it among the churches here. This is a very serious matter here in India. I want to render your study into the Telugu language also, but I feel it may not have the same flavor of strong terminology which you used in English, and which is needed.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Al, I thought I'd tell you that in our congregation, brother Kevin Cauley's point (mentioned in your last Reflections article) is actually moot. Why? Because of a practice that was begun here several years ago to emphasize the unity and family aspects of the Lord's Supper. Our practice isn't something we demand of anyone else, it's just the way we do it. And, we do sing during the Supper! The practice? We distribute the bread and ask everyone to hold it until everyone in the audience has it in their hand. Then we take it together. Next we pass the fruit of the vine and ask that everyone hold their individual cup until all have it, then we drink it together. During the passing of both bread and fruit of the vine, we sing a song that focuses on Jesus and helps us remember Him and His sacrifice for us. We are thus all unified in our singing, and also unified in taking the Lord's Supper. In fact, it appears to me that our way of taking the Supper actually "waits for one another" (1 Cor. 11:33) better than eating and drinking without regard to the others, if that's Kevin Cauley's concern.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Maxey, You are truly an enlightened person. I admire your insight into a movie and your ability to filter through some "not so honorable and godly deeds" so as to ferret out THE MESSAGE of the story. I have been heavily involved in the movie industry for many years; I worked at Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures for nineteen years. I teach scriptwriting and I have three completed scripts that I am "shopping" to the studios. Many times people are simply too consumed with the gratuitous "Hollywood" elements of a film to get the point that is contained in the story. I find that such people as these are very rigid, self-righteous and hypocritical. I share with you a great admiration for movies. I try to get the point of the story, which to me is the most important part of the movie. Thank you for your insight, wisdom and the sharing of your enlightened views. You have many great attributes (highly intelligent; highly educated; very wise; a great writer and communicator, etc.), but there is one that stands above all the others: your loving spirit and loving attitude toward others, especially those that persecute and defame you. Your Reflections are GREAT!!! Be strong and keep the faith.

From a Reader in Michigan:

Dear Al, We have an ultra-anti congregation in our area that disfellowshipped another local Church of Christ over this very thing -- singing during the Lord's Supper -- a few years ago. Of course they disfellowshipped us many, many years ago over the MDR issue. I almost view it as a badge of honor, except I feel badly for those who so zealously cling to their own man-made shackles.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, Thanks so much for this article. The endless arguments of the "Patternists" just boggles the mind. During the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the Orthodox priests were arguing over the proper vestments to wear instead of heeding the impending doom approaching Christianity in their country. Wow! History repeats itself! The Patternists continue to argue while the world dies lost around them ... go figure. Thanks, brother, for your efforts!

From a Reader in Illinois:

Al, I think I mentioned in our brief email exchange recently that I grew up in an anti-institutional Church of Christ. I think I also mentioned that I have started work on a MA degree in theology. I subscribed to your Reflections several months ago and have enjoyed it ever since. It is heartening to me to know that there are people in the Church of Christ that think like you do, and I really appreciate your efforts in your weekly Reflections. Your article about singing during the Lord's Supper was very close to my own thinking in a piece that I wrote just this morning for my current class on Romans. I thought you might be interested in reading it, so I'm sending it on to you. You should know that I think you set a great example for us through your Reflections.

From a Reader in Texas:

Just let me add to the elder in Texas about "Hotel Rwanda." A must see movie. Jesus or God are never mentioned, however you SEE Jesus in the hotel manager. I also watched "Chocolat." Great lessons. I am passing it around among family members. For an in-depth look at the situation in Rwanda look up "The Ghosts of Rwanda" on the Internet and listen to the interviews. So sad, especially when you consider that both tribes thought of themselves as Christian. God bless your efforts, Al. Someday when I have more time I will tell you about my last visit to Tanzania. Interviewed several Moslems.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Al, Good job on this issue (why it should even BE an issue is completely mind boggling). It is utterly absurd that any reasonable mind would try arguing against a song during the Lord's Supper from the standpoint of biblical authority. A strict patternist like Mr. Cauley fails to see the utter hypocrisy of it all. If he were consistent with his restrictive employment of Scripture, he would have to conclude that the ONLY singing within an assembly involving the Lord's Supper would have to be AFTER the Lord's Supper, not BEFORE, since there is absolutely no evidence that the Lord, in instituting the meal, or the disciples in observing it, sang before they partook. Only afterwards did they go out and sing. If Mr. Cauley would be consistent he must cease singing before the Lord's Supper! Consistency ... it's a bear, isn't it?

Also, while I don't always agree with your thinking on some matters, I do agree with many of your criticisms of the Pharisaical mindset. The one area I think you could improve is in the language you use. In particular, I refer to your use of "patternists." As I believe you've admitted, we are all "patternists" to one degree or another. Perhaps "strict patternist" is better, but even that can be misleading. The best term that I have found for this phenomena is "Pharisee." Just some food for thought.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, Thank you for once again exposing the ridiculousness of this theology.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, We will be in Alamogordo Saturday morning (7-23-05). We look forward to getting acquainted with you and Shelly. We would be delighted to visit Cloudcroft and White Sands with you. It sounds great. My wife has never actually seen the desert and we have often discussed traveling out west. So far, for the month of July, we have had 15" of rain here in Atlanta. This has been primarily due to the hurricanes coming in from the Gulf of Mexico. The desert should be a really nice change. Thank you for your willingness to spend a little time with us. It is important for us to make this visit. For the first time in all my years as a Christian, I finally get it. Coming from a mainline Church of Christ background, it has taken some time to overcome so many years of indoctrination. We really do appreciate your scholarship and courage.

From a New Subscriber in California:

Brother Maxey, I have been preaching in the Churches of Christ for the past nineteen years; all of them in California. I plan to write you after I return from my vacation to tell you more about myself, but let me just say I'm a recovering Pharisee who has finally discovered grace and the foolishness of pattern theology. I'm working with a congregation that is basically conservative, but desperate to hear the good news of grace and hope, and we're making headway in helping the Christians here to walk in love, peace and assurance. I'd be very interested in gaining some counsel from you about how to approach things here. Your Reflections are great! I have been reading them on your web site and feel like you've been reading my mind. Please add me to your Reflections mailing list. They encourage me to stay the course and to keep fighting against the forces that have robbed us of the experience of God's life within us; also they encourage me to keep fighting for those broken hearts that yearn for God's love and joy, but who have never known how to realize it in their life. Thank you.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Bro. Al, Thanks so much for your efforts in exposing the tyranny of legalism. How on earth did we as a body of God's people ever succumb to it? I'm happy to report that many churches here in Oklahoma have cast it to the wayside. Many are beaming with the joy of the Lord. And, Bro. Al, you can almost sense their joy when you first enter their midst. I worshipped recently with the Memorial Drive Church of Christ in Tulsa, and was so uplifted by their love and heartfelt worship. God bless the Tulsa Workshop and their efforts to expose this tyranny as well.

From a Reader in Montana:

I can't help but wonder what the hardliners would really think of the first century church if they could just take a peek. I'm sure they would shrink away in disbelief that what they saw could possibly be it. They would certainly proclaim it "unscriptural" and to be avoided, the very church they think they pattern themselves after. I could name dozens of things the early church had that would not be accepted today, and I know you could too. It's sad, but many preachers don't really study their Bibles, and the few that do don't dare go against the "powers that be" and preach it like it is ... instead, they only want to save their jobs. So it's refreshing when men like you, and a few others, have the guts to stand up and proclaim Truth.

From an Elder in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I really enjoy your Reflections, and I'm looking forward to your Debate CD (enclosed is a check for three copies of that CD). Thanks for allowing God to work through you! P.S. -- Do you know Jim Morrow there in Alamogordo? He's a long time friend. He preached at Fox & Lake in Carlsbad where my dad led singing for over 65 years!

From a Reader in Texas:

Boy, you sure hit the nail on the head with a 12# sledge in your article "Mixing Acts of Worship!" I too have heard this stupid argument (and probably used it when I was in "anti-ism"). Some must think God is sitting on His throne with a long handled flyswatter just looking for another "sinner" to swat. What a perception of God! Oh well, keep up the good fight. God has truly blessed you with such an inquiring mind, and with a deep conviction to let others benefit from your thinking and research. We are so blessed to have pages like yours on the Internet.


One of the staff members at the Therapy Center where my wife Shelly is Child Care Coordinator & Staff Trainer asked me recently if I would write a poem for her, written from the perspective of a toddler, that she and the children in her care could send to our troops in Iraq. This staff member is also a reader of these Reflections, and a super young lady. I told her I would be happy to write her such a poem, and the result follows. I am thrilled that this is being sent to our loyal troops overseas, who are making daily sacrifices to bring the joys of freedom to others. May God's grace and protective care ever be upon them.

This Little Heart
by Al Maxey

These little eyes haven't seen very much;
These little feet haven't gone far;
But these little ears have heard Daddy talking,
And I know how special you are.

We run and play and climb in trees,
And build castles in the sand;
We are safe and free and happy at home
Because you fight to defend our land.

You serve in a place far, far away,
Apart from family and friends.
But know the pride this little heart feels,
And the love this little card sends.

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