Issue #223 -------
December 2, 2005
Habit with him was all the test
of truth; "It must be right:
I've done it from my youth."
George Crabbe (1754-1832)
Over the years (and I will have been preaching full time for 30 years this coming May) I have repeatedly issued a loving challenge to my brethren in some of the ultra-conservative and non-institutional factions of the Churches of Christ ... a challenge, I might add, which has yet to be accepted and/or adequately met. The challenge is to these extreme legalistic patternists who boldly assert that one's eternal salvation, and fellowship among the saints, is contingent upon exact compliance with the particulars of some pattern perceived in the New Testament writings. If these brethren are correct in their belief, then it would certainly behoove each of us to learn the specifics of this pattern upon which our fellowship and salvation depend. I have sought repeatedly to secure this list of specifics, and not a single one of these legalistic patternists has ever provided me with that list. Indeed, they become quite angry when I ask for it. And yet, isn't it only logical to request such a list, if indeed exact compliance with such particulars of such a "pattern" is essential to both fellowship and salvation, as they so adamantly assert? Therefore, why the reluctance to provide it? One would think these brethren would be absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to share this information with those whom they regard as lost. If I were of that persuasion, I would carry copies of the particulars of this pattern on my person, sharing it gladly with all those searching souls who requested a copy (and most likely with a great many who did not). Instead, these patternistic extremists literally flee like the wind from those who seek to know the exact nature of this elusive pattern, becoming irate that such inquiries are even made of them!
Recently I was informed by a reader of these Reflections that he had just read an article by Dr. Cecil May, Jr. in the Oct/Nov issue of Magnolia Messenger in which this brother had attempted a response to my challenge. He stated he felt Dr. May had been very fair and courteous in his treatment of me and my request. Another reader wrote to inform me that Dr. May had, in fact, met my challenge fully. To Dr. May's credit, he sent me a copy of this article at the same time that he sent a copy to the editor of Magnolia Messenger for publication. Thus, I had an opportunity to read it prior to its publication. I also have in my possession a copy of that particular issue of this publication, with Cecil's article appearing on pages 3 and 17 of that issue. Dr. May, who serves as the Dean of the College of Biblical Studies at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama, was indeed very fair and courteous in his response to my challenge, and for that I thank him. Cecil has subscribed to my Reflections for some time, and has always been gracious in his emails to me. I consider him a beloved brother in Christ, and highly respect his years of sacrificial service to the cause of Christ.
Let me begin this reflective review by saying that I greatly appreciate the tone of Bro. May's article. He was fair and gracious, evidencing the spirit of Christ throughout. The Lord's disciples can learn much from his example, myself included. He obviously feels strongly about his views, as do I, but stopped short of the dogmatism that so frequently plagues the people of God. Cecil made several statements in his article that display his noble spirit. With regard to those who may differ with him, for example, he wrote, "I respect the convictions of those who" believe their own particulars of this pattern are binding, "and I appreciate those who, while holding those convictions, maintain a kindly spirit and a willingness to have friendly association with those who differ with them on such matters." May I utter a hearty "Amen" to this statement. I have absolutely no quarrel with those who hold to differing perspectives as long as they are willing to lovingly and respectfully dialogue with those with whom they differ. It is the theological terrorist who lobs grenades at his opponents then turns tail and flees to cower in his cave that I regard as beneath contempt. The latter is certainly no description of Dr. May, at least not in my experience with this man.
Dr. May wrote, "We ought to persuade, warn and admonish those we perceive to be mistaken, but we have no power to force anyone to believe or to enforce conformity to our viewpoint." Once again, I concur completely. My goal in these Reflections has always been simply to challenge my brethren to think, NOT to force them to conform to my own views. My convictions are my own, and I order my life by them. However, it is not my place to seek to bind them upon others, or to condemn those who differ, or withhold fellowship from them. I will readily share my convictions with whoever is willing to listen, and will seek to convince them of the reasons I feel my perceptions may be more valid, but it would be the epitome of godless arrogance to demand others bow to my perspectives as though they descended directly from the throne of God. I will never seek to exercise such "authority" over others, nor will I ever allow others to exercise it over me! Dr. May spoke of certain brothers and sisters who are "in a tight-knit circle of fellowship," and who include within that circle of fellowship "only those who agree completely with them on a particular set of issues." This is a sectarian spirit, and I deplore it just as deeply as Bro. May. I will continue to fight against this divisive spirit as long as God gives me strength and opportunity.
Cecil May is grieved by the fact, as am I, that some legalistic patternists "have formed virtually separate brotherhoods on the basis of some of" the particulars of their party's version of the "pattern." Such schism is the inevitable result of such attempts to bind as LAW one's perception of this elusive "pattern." As Cecil May correctly stated, "Some see patterns where, I believe, there are none." And this is exactly the problem! Patternism is highly subjective in nature! Put a hundred patternists in a room and have them write the particulars of their pattern, and you will be handed a hundred different lists! Of course, actually getting them to submit such a list of patternistic particulars is nigh unto impossible. That, in point of fact, is the basis of my challenge. In thirty years of requesting such a list from these brethren, not one single person has provided it ... Not Even One!! Frankly, they don't dare; it would immediately be perceived for what it truly is: nothing more than a list of personal or party perceptions and preferences, the majority of which are based on what God didn't say in Scripture, rather than on what He did.
Perhaps you are beginning to see that I have very little argument with Bro. Cecil May. In point of fact, I would agree with about 80% of what he had to say in his article. These are insights and truths I have been proclaiming for years. Thus, I found myself saying "Amen" throughout the majority of his article. Indeed, my "Amen" almost became a shout as I read the next to last paragraph of his article -- "We are not saved because we perfectly follow the patterns of Scripture. We are saved by the sacrifice of Christ through our faith in Him." In some ways this was simply an echo of what he had expressed in the fourth paragraph of his article -- "We are not required to be perfectly right or perfectly righteous; we are required to be faithful. We are saved by grace through faith." In the very next paragraph he correctly observes, "It is almost universally understood that Christ is to be our pattern in conduct and attitudes." I couldn't agree more! As I have often stated: Christ Jesus is our Pattern!
Nevertheless, I must give Dr. Cecil May a less than passing grade in his effort to address the specifics of my challenge to the legalistic patternists. Nowhere in his article did he even begin to adequately respond to what I have for many years requested of these seriously misguided brethren. Indeed, throughout his insightful and very well-written article he simply proves my point, agreeing with the central tenets of my teaching in these Reflections. Did Dr. Cecil May meet my challenge? The answer is: No, he did not! In fact, he even admits at the very beginning of his response that he is not the type of person to whom I addressed my challenge. Thus, he is not even the right person to be attempting such a response. My challenge has always, and only, been to the legalistic patternists; to those who believe the scrupulous observance of the specifics of some pattern is essential to our justification, salvation and fellowship. Yet, Bro. Cecil wrote in the very first paragraph, "I am not a legalistic patternist. For that matter, I am not a legalistic anything." Therefore, why are you responding to this challenge? My challenge is ONLY addressed to legalistic patternists, which Dr. Cecil May, by his own admission, IS NOT.
Dr. May does claim to be a "patternist," however. "I accept the classification 'patternist' because I believe there are patterns in Scripture that the Lord wants us to follow." I would agree. Based on this more limited definition of "patternism," I myself am a patternist, and have freely admitted to being such in several previous issues of these Reflections. For example, take note of the following: Pondering Patternism (Issue #130) and Three Assertive Articles (Issue #197). I, like Dr. May, "believe there are patterns in Scripture that the Lord wants us to follow." One would be a fool not to acknowledge that such expectations of our Father exist in His inspired, written Word. I even devoted an entire article to listing what I believed to be the essentials of His divine expectations: Issue #200a. I have never denied the fact that our Father has clearly specified the parameters of our Christian walk. My quarrel is not with His commands. Rather, it is with the assumptions, deductions and inferences of mere men, which they then seek to bind upon the rest of humanity as if they were divine decree. Such attempts to bind these many and varied personal preferences and perceptions as being essential to justification, salvation and fellowship is what constitutes legalistic patternism.
Additionally, I need to point out that Dr. May did not provide the information that I requested in my challenge. As a handful of others have done, he simply picked a few particulars that he personally felt strongly about, and then left the vast majority of the specifics of this elusive pattern for the reader to determine on his or her own. This is unacceptable! Goebel Music did the very same thing in his book "Behold the Pattern," and, interestingly enough, picked almost the exact same examples Cecil chose for his article --- basically consisting of the "five acts of worship," although no real specifics were ever provided as to how these five are to be conducted (and this is where the bulk of our schisms originate). Notice the following quote from my review of Bro. Music's book (Issue #209):
Such is the view of the legalistic patternists. Every "t" must be crossed and every "i" dotted in every particular of the "pattern" if one would be accepted by God. IF this is true, as they maintain, then they MUST, of necessity, provide every particular of that pattern, lest by failing to correctly comply with even one particular of that pattern, even out of ignorance, we are eternally lost. Yet, they refuse to provide these particulars. I have challenged them to do so for decades, and not one person has yet met that challenge. Neither has Dr. Cecil May. Near the end of his article he wrote, "I have pointed to some of what I believe Scripture tells us is the will of God" (emphasis mine). Well, Bro. May, "some" of the pattern is not sufficient if indeed perfect compliance with ALL of the pattern is what ultimately proves redemptive!! In the next paragraph he speaks of "other matters which we have not touched on." Again, if these matters are essential to our eternal salvation and our fellowship with the saints, then why were they NOT touched upon?! To Dr. May's credit, however, he clearly does not believe such scrupulous, perfect compliance with every particular of some elusive pattern is redemptive. By his own admission, he is not a "legalistic patternist." Cecil wrote, "We are not saved because we perfectly follow the patterns of Scripture." AMEN. He further states, "We are not required to be perfectly right or perfectly righteous." AMEN. Therefore, he does not feel compelled, and rightly so, to fully list every single particular of this pattern. There is no need for such! Thus, not only has Dr. May not met my challenge, he is not even the person to whom the challenge was directed. Indeed, he should be standing right by my side sounding forth this same challenge to those who are legalistic patternists.
Dr. May spends a good portion of his article talking about the so-called "five acts of worship." He writes, "In the assembly, then, under apostolic direction, there was the Lord's supper, preaching, prayer, singing, and a collection to meet identified needs." These are the five areas of the public assembly that tend to cause the greatest amount of debate with regard to this "pattern." Very rarely do legalistic patternists concern themselves with much of anything else. It almost always centers on the Sunday assembly. I believe Bro. Cecil makes an astute observation at this point: "When an appeal to biblical patterns is almost exclusively related to patterns for assemblies and to such things as congregational organization and activity, it can cause hearers to mistakenly conclude that those are the only, or at least the primary, things about which the Lord is concerned." Cecil makes a solid case for the fact that the New Covenant writings "do not focus primarily on assemblies and congregational programs; their focus is on everyday life. They emphasize morality, integrity and a caring spirit." I think Cecil has hit the nail squarely on the head with this one!
Nevertheless, about half of his article still concerns itself with "A Pattern for Assembly," which he largely limits to comments on the "five acts." Although I respect Dr. May's views expressed on these five acts, I find myself differing with his conclusions on almost every one of them. For example, with regard to 1 Cor. 11, he wrote, "It seems to me that taking the Lord's supper as part of a fellowship meal is what Paul is here rejecting. Meals for fellowship are good, and authorized, but are not to be part of the assembly or the Lord's supper." I think he has failed to correctly perceive Paul's intent in this passage. He also argues for Sunday being the only day for the observance of the Lord's Supper, and yet with regard to Sunday collections he says, "More 'pattern' than the text warrants may sometimes be made out of this text. It is surely not an exclusive pattern for Sunday as the only time gifts can be given." Yet, this is exactly what some of the legalistic patternists contend from 1 Cor. 16:2. If Sunday is exclusive for the communion, then by the same reasoning Sunday is exclusive for the contribution. Bro. Cecil seemingly sees a binding pattern in Acts 20:7, but does not see one in 1 Cor. 16:2. Such inconsistency, by the way, is quite typical of patternists; it is a "pick and choose" theology. I would refer the reader to my Reflections article: The Collection for the Saints (Issue #100). Please consider also: The Lord's Supper: Focusing on Frequency (Issue #30).
In conclusion, let me say once again how much I appreciate the spirit and service of Dr. Cecil May, Jr. In my personal view, he is a good example for us all of a faithful, devoted servant of God. Do I differ with this brother on a number of matters? Yes, I do. This in no way, however, diminishes my love and respect for him, nor do I regard him as lost or unworthy of my fellowship. He is simply a dear brother with whom I respectfully differ, and I look forward to walking that street of gold with him one day! Let me close this review by quoting the final statement of Bro. May in his article: "When we recognize that He has saved us by His death, when we believe that Scripture is His own revelation of Himself and His will, and when in gratitude we search the Scriptures for His will for us, all because we want to please the one who died for us, that is not legalism. It is faith working through love."
From a New Reader in (Unknown):
Al, My brother-in-law, who is a minister on the east coast, put me on to your web site and suggested your book Down, But Not Out, which I have ordered from Amazon.com and am very much looking forward to reading. After 29 years of marriage, my husband recently approached me to say that he thought it was time we went our separate ways. We are now in the process of divorce, and I am riding the roller coaster of pain, anger, grief, fear and maybe a little hope for a better future. I think what is happening to me happens more often in the church than we might like to admit, and happens even to the so-called "pillars" of the church (of which my husband was one) more often than we may care to realize. Perhaps one day I can gain the strength to comfort others. I have read some of your Reflections with much interest, and I would like to be added to your mailing list. I plan to use your lessons as a basis for private study. Thanks for your words and for your learning.
From a New Reader in Ghana, Africa:
Dear Bro. Maxey, I am a lecturer at the Ghana Bible College, and am also in charge of the college library. Recently a brother from the USA visited the college and in a conversation he told me about you and your Reflections. In fact, I have now started reading them. I just decided to email you and say hello to you for now. Greetings to you for your good works.
From a Reader in Michigan:
Al, I appreciated your insights into eating and drinking the Lord's body and blood (Reflections #222). In 1961, when I was baptized, I was taken to a sister congregation about 25 miles away because our congregation worshipped in a house which had no baptistery. I was baptized between the morning and evening services on Sunday. The preacher there asked me a surprise question after I was baptized -- "Do you want to have communion now or wait until the evening service?" I told him I would wait until the evening service. He replied, "Since Jesus said, 'Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you,' if you were to get in a car crash and die before you commune tonight, you would be lost." Legalism blinds the human mind from the true beauty and value of such an external observance. It takes our eyes off Christ and His work and focuses on our performance. Thanks again for your insights.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear brother, I haven't written in a while, but continue to appreciate being "fed" weekly by your Reflections. I pray for you often, and am so excited to see the difference that your work and ministry is truly making among us. Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Indiana:
Brother Al, The friends that I have been writing to you about have just left the ultra-conservative church (and other families are leaving this church at the same time). They were able to devote some time over the Thanksgiving holiday to reading several of your Reflections, and they said how amazed they were that you were able to get into their heads and answer the questions that were troubling them. I also want to thank you for the article on the woman caught in adultery (Issue #104). I believe you were totally accurate in what you said. I also got the movie Chocolat (Issue #198) and am looking forward to watching it. I have also appreciated reading your many articles in Grace Centered Magazine ... also, Bobby Valentine's articles. Our family is so appreciative of all the good you do through your writings! I just wanted to say, Thank You!!
From a Reader in Colorado:
Dear Brother Maxey, This evening, like many others, I intended to "accomplish something," like writing our family Christmas letter, only to have spent the last two hours reading your Reflections. A good friend of mine told me about your web site a year ago, and I have enjoyed reading it ever since. It has caused me to think, and also to see things in a fresh, new light. I feel like I've grown spiritually by leaps and bounds. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. God is using you in a mighty way. I pray that He will give you many more years of service. Our generation needs courageous teachers like you.
From a Beloved Professor in Texas:
(Chairman of the Graduate Committee for my MA degree)
Al, We have been looking at John 6 at our congregation for a couple of weeks. The key is to look at the prior five chapters of John and see the lack of insight of the Jews to Jesus' teaching because of their traditional views. They missed the coming from heaven aspects, the miracles and their spiritual meaning, the eternal life teachings, etc. Jewish tradition was very difficult to lay aside. My dad would agree! His grace be upon you.
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