Issue #207 -------
September 1, 2005
The fact that an opinion has been widely held
is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly
absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the
majority of mankind, a widespread belief is
more likely to be foolish than sensible.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Partisanship is nothing new. It has been a part of human history from the very beginning, and we all encounter it daily in almost every area of life. Tragically, it even thrives within Christendom. Catholics and Protestants have been going at one another for centuries. Universalists and Fundamentalists rarely have anything of a positive nature to say about one another. Baptists and those within Churches of Christ have squabbled for generations, the former often characterizing the latter as "Campbellites," and the latter usually, and just as uncharitably, characterizing the former as "Calvinists." There is now a movement within many long-established Christian groups to drop the identifying name of their denomination, becoming more of a "community church," thereby attempting to appeal to a much broader base of prospective adherents. This too has been frequently challenged as just another form of "non-partisan" partisanship.
Such factional thinking is truly unfortunate among those who profess the name of Jesus, for it was He who came specifically to break down partisan barriers and unite us all into One Family. The apostle Paul urged us to be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," for "there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were also called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:3-6). Partisanship among believers is nothing less than an affront to deity; an abomination of cosmic proportions! Paul wasted no time condemning those in Corinth who were guilty of such factional behavior! "Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1:13). In the spirit of this inspired text, it is just as wrong to be a "Baptist" as a "Campbellite," or a "Lutheran," or any other separated segment of the whole. Was Alexander Campbell crucified for us? Did Martin Luther die on the cross for us? Did John Calvin rise from his tomb on the third day? To wear any name but HIS name, borders on partisanship. I have no desire to bear the name of either a practice or a person; I simply seek to live in such a way, enabled by the Spirit who indwells me, that when people see me they see Jesus .... not a member of some faction or party or sect within Christendom.
Partisan challenges abound in the religious world about us. Each faction fancies itself the fullness of the Family of God, and such arrogance always leads to the oppression of those outside the parameters of their own partisan preferences, perceptions and practices. I responded to one such challenge three years ago (July-August, 2002). Pastor David Martin of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Bartlett, Tennessee produced a document titled "Common Sense Questions A 'Church Of Christ' Preacher Cannot Clearly Answer." Well, I answered those questions and sent him a copy (those answers may be read in Reflections #146). This led to the Maxey-Martin Dialogue which lasted for about a month. Martin has placed that dialogue on his own web site under the title "Water Dog Fights" -- a disparaging slur on the "Campbellite" belief in water baptism.
Another effort at "exposing the enemy" was attempted by the late Pastor A. A. Davis, of the First Baptist Church in Nowata, Oklahoma. He put out a document titled "101 Questions for Campbellites." He declared these questions were "compiled after many years of hard work in defense of the Truth." He further declared boldly that these questions "have seen the field of battle and have emerged victorious in every skirmish." He urges his fellow Baptists to "never fear the result," but rather to boldly ask any "Campbellite" these questions "and listen to the answers." His belief, of course, is that no "Campbellite" will be able to provide an intelligent, much less biblical, response.
Many of his questions are simply repeats of the same concerns expressed by Pastor David Martin. Thus, much of what the late Pastor Davis challenges has already been addressed in my above response to and dialogue with Pastor Martin. Therefore, it would be somewhat redundant for me to cover that same ground again. Furthermore, a great many other "Campbellites" have already addressed each of these 101 questions in some depth, and thus it would be even more redundant for me to add to that wealth of response already on record. Just by way of illustration, I would refer the readers to the following:
These three are just a small sampling of the many responses that have been penned over the years to these 101 questions for members of Churches of Christ. The above are also, admittedly, by brethren who are from the ultra-conservative wing of our faith-heritage, thus I do not agree entirely with all of their responses to the questions of Pastor Davis. Nevertheless, to their credit, they have indeed sought to tackle each of his challenges to those he disparagingly characterizes as "Campbellites." For their effort I applaud them, especially in light of the fact that a good many of these questions were so absurd that they did not truly even deserve a response! For example, consider the following questions taken from the list of Pastor Davis:
Well, you get the idea! I'm afraid that I would have lost patience about halfway through this list of childish challenges. "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes" (Prov. 26:4-5). Nevertheless, as ridiculous as many of his questions are, Pastor Davis does raise some very legitimate concerns that should be addressed by those within the Church of Christ faith-heritage. In the midst of these many absurdities one does find some valid challenges that we would do well not to brush aside too quickly. Although most of his perceptions of our beliefs and practices are horribly biased and distorted, nevertheless he is painfully on target with respect to a few of them, and we would be wise to take note of how others are perceiving us!
Spirit of Exclusivity
One of the central problems with partisanship is the accompanying spirit of exclusivity -- i.e., all those who are not within the parameters of one's own party are excluded. They are outcasts, apostates, heretics, heathen. If you aren't "one of us," then you are "one of them" ... and they are all going to hell. This attitude is not just restricted to Churches of Christ; it is to be found in all religious groups. In every denomination, faction and sect within Christendom one will discover those disciples who harbor these feelings. I've seen it in some Baptists, just as they have seen it in some who assemble with the Churches of Christ. To Pastor Davis, and others like him, I would suggest some careful examination as to what is in their own eye before they seek to remove some speck from another's. Jesus declared the qualification for a stone thrower to be sinlessness (John 8:7). A bit of introspection might save a lot of broken windows ... and heads!
In many of his 101 questions Pastor Davis reflects the perception of a rather large number of persons throughout the years that members of the Churches of Christ believe they are the ONLY ones saved; the ONLY ones who are biblically correct on all matters of doctrine and practice; the ONLY ones going to heaven. If you do not worship and work with a Church of Christ congregation, then you are LOST ... period. As painful as it is for us to admit, it is nevertheless a known fact that some within our faith-heritage do indeed possess this spirit of exclusivity. Some of these people are, additionally, so ultra-legalistic that they don't even believe the vast majority of those in Churches of Christ are saved, but ONLY those who are in their particular little faction. The Non-Institutional congregations, for example, are notorious for this. Unless you goose-step to their drumbeat and parrot their shibboleths, you are bound straight for the fires of hell. This is an abominable attitude, and it might have surprised Pastor Davis to know that the majority of those within our faith-heritage DO NOT embrace or evidence such a spirit; indeed, we're disgusted by it. Salvation is in a Person, not a party or pattern or position; salvation is in Christ, not the Church of Christ. That distinction is vital, and some among us have indeed failed to perceive it.
Thus, we find such questions in this document as: "Do you recognize people who call themselves Church of God?" "Is the term Church of God a Scriptural term?" "Is it possible for anyone to be a true believer who is a member of a church not called the Church of Christ?" "Where was your Church of Christ from Pentecost until Campbell's day? Almost 1800 years are left unaccounted for." A good many years ago I had an elder in the Churches of Christ tell me that EVERYONE on the planet went straight to hell during all those 1800 years until men finally got the "name above the door right again!" In other words, if the sign on the lawn doesn't say "Church of Christ," then it isn't HIS church. Yes, such people DO exist among us. They also, by the way, exist in the Baptist Church, and the Catholic Church, and most other groups. It is an evil spirit of delusion and exclusion not unique to Churches of Christ. There's plenty of this nonsense to go around! Nevertheless, just because it is found in others, does not excuse it in ourselves. We must ever be on guard against such partisan thinking.
"Campbellites" have long been accused of denying grace, downplaying faith, and elevating works with regard to one's eternal salvation. Unfortunately, this charge is also not without some basis in fact, at least with regard to some among our brethren. This mindset is again found most frequently among the ultra-conservative, legalistic, patternistic factions of the Stone-Campbell movement in American religious history. These few, however, tend to be rather vocal, and even militant, thus their attitudes and actions often reflect poorly on the rest within this heritage who do not hold to such false teaching. The visibility of the few has led people like Pastor Davis to label the many as promoters of salvation by works. He asked the question: "Is baptism an act of sovereign grace performed by God, or is it an act of righteousness on man's part?" I think Davis missed it on both counts, but his question nevertheless reflects his perception that those in Churches of Christ believe it is by "works of personal righteousness" that we merit the favor of our God.
Yes, some do believe this. Most do not, however. Those who do are a very insecure, fearful bunch; never really sure at any given moment if they are saved or lost, since, after all, it all depends on whether their good works can tip the scales in their favor at the "Great Weigh In" before the throne. I had a woman tell me when I was preaching in Germany that it was the "height of arrogance" for any Christian to declare here and now that he or she was saved! "We won't know until we get there," she said. What a wretched way to live!! But, if one is counting on themselves for salvation, then I suppose that would be true. Thank God our salvation rests in HIS hands, not OURS!! Salvation is not by means of perfect perception or perfect practice or perfect theology; salvation is by means of a perfect Person who made the perfect sacrifice!! "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works" (Eph. 2:8-9).
Churches of Christ, more than any other group in Christendom (except perhaps for the Catholics), are accused of promoting justification and salvation via set patterns and forms of worship, with particular, almost exclusive, attention upon the Sunday "worship service." What happens in that "worship service," and the manner in which it occurs, can determine not only if one is in the "one, true church," but also if in fact one is even saved. Sing praises to God accompanied by an instrument and you will go to hell. Use multiple cups instead of one cup and you will go to hell. Have a Sunday school and you will go to hell. Have a meal in the building and you will go to hell. Sing during the Lord's Supper and you will go to hell. A thousand more patternistic particulars could easily be listed, all of which have arisen within various factions of ultra-legalistic Churches of Christ.
"If musical instruments are so sinful, why will a trumpet be blown at the resurrection day? Will you rise and rebuke the blower of the trumpet and refuse to fellowship him because he used an evil instrument on that sacred occasion?" Only if he blows it on a Sunday, Pastor Davis!!! Silly, isn't it? And yet by elevating a personal preference to the status of a condition of salvation we have opened ourselves up for such ridicule. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having personal preferences in corporate worship. Personally, I prefer a cappella. However, if I begin condemning those who have a different preference, then I am wrong, and, frankly, deserve to be rebuked for such arrogance. The parameters of acceptable worship are not as rigidly and restrictively drawn as many of our misguided brethren seem to think. Genuine worship is best determined by a person's heart, not a party's heritage. Traditions are fine, but when they are regarded as comparable to Truth itself, and brethren are excluded from fellowship because their preferences don't match our own, then we are deserving of such rebuke as evidenced in some of the questions of Pastor Davis.
This present issue of Reflections is hardly a defense of the "101 Questions." Indeed, the late Pastor Davis reflected just as much partisanship as he sought to condemn in others. His biases were evident and his contempt for the "Campbellites" clearly perceived in his characterizations. Many of his questions were not only ludicrous, but leading. The document was not really designed to open lines of communication, but merely to expose to ridicule those with whom he differed. Nevertheless, much can be learned from those who are our critics, if we will seek to look beyond the mocking and determine the validity of the message.
Pastor A. A. Davis does indeed make some valid observations, and we would do well to take them to heart. We should never compromise the Truth as revealed in God's inspired Word. Standing for Truth is not optional. However, how we do so, and what we sometimes add to Truth, should always be open to careful examination and reflection and, if necessary, reform. Yes, some among our faith-heritage have displayed a spirit of partisanship. The fact that other believers often do the same regarding their own traditions, in no way excuses us. Some among us have indeed elevated their perceived patterns to the level of divine LAW. This is wrong. For too long we have tended to isolate ourselves from our extended family and to exclude God's other children. This must cease. And, yes, our tendency has been to focus more on our actions than our attitudes, and to be more works-conscious than is warranted. The message of God's grace needs to be heard more from our pulpits than it has in years past. Such is not an effort to appease the likes of Pastor Davis, or to compromise the gospel message for the sake of some kind of ecumenical outreach. It is simply a commitment to return to biblical Truths long buried beneath partisan preferences. If all God's children would commit to doing the same, much of the sibling squabbling would cease. May God hasten that day!
From a New Reader in California:
I am a minister from -----, California and heard about you a couple of weeks ago on a missions trip to Brazil. You were mentioned by the minister of the Church of Christ in Araguaina, Brazil. Please include me in your mailings for Reflections. Thank you.
From a New Reader in Barbados
(most easterly of the Caribbean Islands):
Hi Al, I am somewhat intrigued by the way in which you produce your arguments. While I do not necessarily agree with your positions, you do send me back to the drawing board to examine my own positions. I believe that this is good for many of us who have held on to some traditional positions for a long time without thoroughly researching them. You make me think and meditate upon the Word of God in ways that I believe will stand me in good stead. To this end I request that you add me to your mailing list. Thank you.
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, The minister from Kentucky says, "Today we identify the Lord's church by the pattern of worship, salvation and service we find in the New Testament." I find it extremely sad that this man, and others of his ilk, forget that Jesus said that His followers would be known by their great love for one another. I guess they have decided to dump love for their brothers, and to instead embrace an elusive "pattern" which they can neither identify nor convey. I think that I'll stick to identifying the Lord's people by their great love as opposed to some ephemeral pattern that no one can seem to figure out. By the way, I wonder if anyone else noted the irony that this article by this minister from Kentucky appeared in Forthright Magazine. The answers you received from him were about as "UNforthright" as I've ever seen!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, Thank you for your articles -- especially the ones about patterns. I frequently feel out of place with some of those around me as I wasn't raised in the Church of Christ and don't read in the Bible some of the things they advocate. After having to be baptized three times to satisfy their ideas, I have finally matured enough to find a more healthy church, but still run into those you write about. So from me to you -- THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
So you still can't get that "Pattern List," huh?! Imagine that!!! I was reading from Hebrews this morning and the writer made it clear that the "pattern" way of worship is OVER. If you get 10 different ministers to make a list, the lists would all be different, and each minister would then condemn the others as Hell bound.
From a Reader in California:
Interesting Reflections today. Thanks. So many of my people remain in that very place of which you spoke. A nest that they are too comfortable in to move out of. In all my years of questioning that which I was raised under, and questioning those who raised me and taught me, there has never been an answer provided to a straight-up question (face to face), nor one to a letter that I might have addressed to them. They don't have an answer! I feel sorry for them when that great day comes and they are asked to give an account of themselves before God Almighty. By the way, one of your readers mentioned his 50th high school class reunion. I am chairman for my own 50th class reunion upcoming in October. How many of us old moss covered believers do you suppose there are that read your Reflections?!
From a New Reader in Alabama:
Al, Would you please add me to your list of people who regularly receive Reflections. I am a retired professor from Lipscomb University. Before leaving Nashville, Tennessee to be with family in Alabama, I was an elder at the ----- --- congregation for 15 years. For many years I have espoused a theology similar to that expressed by you and Dr. Leroy Garrett. Thanks!
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Dear Al, I attended Sunset School of Preaching (Lubbock, TX) years ago and sat in Ed Wharton's Church of Christ class and read his book where he defended the idea that there is a pattern or form that God established for the Christian life and for the church. Reading your article I had the feeling that the brother in Kentucky you were corresponding with was just repeating things he had heard from Ed. I don't know because I don't know the brother. I can't say I agree with Ed on everything, or even understand what he intended, but I do believe in a pattern. I think it is revealed. But, I don't believe that I can or that I should provide a list. If someone asks me to tell him what is the pattern, I personally like the response of "Read your Bible; figure it out for yourself." What a good exercise to seek God's will and God's wisdom! I believe that Christ ordered and planned the church and the Christian life and we ought to spend our lives seeking His will and His way. This is to be a life-long search.
From a Reader in Texas:
Thanks for your web site. It is literally a God-send, and such a comfort. I also realize that you are a very busy person, and that you have important work to do, but please, if you get the time, could you give me some of your thoughts on an agonizing issue for me. You see, I used to be secure in my salvation because I thought I had done what was asked of me. I believed and was baptized. I was baptized in a Church of Christ. Many good people go to that church, and I am still a member. However, after doing some online research about the Churches of Christ (I am a former Baptist), I came across many articles stating that unless someone understood that baptism was "for the remission of sins," his baptism was not valid and therefore he was not saved. Yes, I remember the preacher quoting Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:16, and I accepted what was read out of the Bible, but my focus was simply to obey God (and my Lord Jesus) when I was baptized. I didn't really grasp the "remission of sins" part, but I accepted the scripture that was cited. I remember thinking of how it symbolized the burial of Christ. However, I was ignorant of all the doctrines concerning baptism and the precise, literal "remission of sins" that occurs at the point of immersion. I thought that baptism was only a symbolic gesture of faith that was commanded by the Lord. I easily understood and accepted Mark 16:16 on face value, but I have to admit that Acts 2:38 was, and is, still hard for me to comprehend. I accepted it, but, like now, honestly didn't understand it. Thus, based on some of the articles I have read from other web sites, I may not even be saved. Somehow I get the feeling that you must have dealt with situations like this. I am not exactly sure what your view on "understanding Acts 2:38 to be saved" is, but I respect your insight. Can you help me?
From a Methodist Pastor in Iowa:
Al, It was with pleasure that I read your Reflections article on "Calcified Callous Recalcitrants." I am sorry that I have had to skip over some of your Reflections this summer due to a rather busy schedule. But, in today's issue you are right on!
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Keep up the good work. You are pulling a heavy load up hill, but I pray you find helpers along the way.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, Thanks, as always, for your efforts -- they are making a difference in the lives of people I know!!!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, That was another great article! I have forwarded it on to everyone I know ... and then some. I hope that this finds you and Shelly doing okay. We think of you guys often and look forward to seeing you again. I have been telling everyone about our bi-monthly Bible studies, the insights that you provide through your Reflections, and the three CD's by John Smith that you gave us when we came out there to see you (which, by the way, are now in the hands of 15 couples or more). Keep up the good work, Al. Your diligence and fervor inspire many! Give Shelly our love! We appreciate you more than you know!
From a New Reader in Colorado:
I just read your latest article concerning patterns, with which I have struggled with different brethren for quite some years. We lived in Oregon about 10 years ago, and I had quite an interesting time with the "True Church" that met there. Please add me to your email list for Reflections. Thank you!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, "Calcified Callous Recalcitrants" is one of your best. Repeat it often. In fact, give it a new number -- Issue #1AAA!!
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Brother Al, If a person were to ask you, "Al, what must I do to be saved?," what would you tell them?
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. I would also welcome
any questions or comments from the readers. A CD
containing these articles may be purchased. Check the
ARCHIVES for details & past issues of Reflections: