by Al Maxey

Issue #227 ------- December 27, 2005
Learning without thought is labor lost;
thought without learning is perilous.

Confucius (551-479 B.C.)

Discipleship and Discipling
Who/What is a Disciple of Jesus?

Quite a number of years ago I was informed by a dear Christian brother that "a disciple of Jesus Christ MUST of necessity be a convert to Jesus Christ." He declared that there was no such thing as a "disciple of Christ" who was NOT a "baptized believer." At the time I didn't really give this bold assertion a great deal of serious thought, although it stuck in my mind because it sounded awfully limited in scope (made even more so by the added qualifier that the genuine disciple was only to be found in the Churches of Christ; anyone outside of our faith-heritage was not truly a disciple of Christ). In more recent years, however, I have come to question this perception of a "disciple." An online Theological Dictionary that I happened to come across on the Internet while examining various definitions of the term "disciple" made this statement: "Every disciple is a convert, but not every convert is a disciple." Very interesting! I most certainly agree with the latter phrase, but have great difficulty with the former. Such a view seems almost to equate discipleship with membership -- i.e., unless one is associated with US, he/she is not truly a disciple of HIM. This was once the assumption of John, until Jesus set him straight on the matter (Luke 9:49; Mark 9:38-40).

I suppose a critical part of this dilemma, if I may characterize it as such (and for some it truly is), centers on a person's working definition of "disciple." Just exactly what or who is a "disciple"? In our English language dictionaries this word is defined as "a pupil or follower of any teacher or school" (Webster's New World Dictionary). I suppose it is the concept of someone being a "follower" that leads many to believe this denotes full acceptance of and compliance with the teachings of the specific teacher or school one has chosen to be a student of and to follow. However, the reality is that one may studiously follow the teachings of someone without necessarily becoming a convert to that teaching or teacher. Many are simply students and followers out of curiosity or interest, rather than deep, life-altering conviction. For example, I have been studiously examining and following the progression of Buddhism for decades. I have lived among them, attended ceremonies in their temples throughout Asia, studied their teachings in college, sat and talked with their monks, however I am in no sense of the word a "convert" to Buddhism. I am merely a "student." Thus, by strict definition, I am a "disciple" of Buddhism: one who follows with great interest, and studies the many aspects of, this fascinating religion, but I am not an adherent or proponent of this teaching. Therefore, discipleship does not necessarily signify membership; one can be a disciple of someone or something and NOT be a convert to it.

I would agree, though, that one will never become a convert to someone or something unless they are first a disciple. This is only logical. One does not come to deep, life-altering conviction in the teachings of Jesus Christ without first having spent some time in serious study and reflection upon these vital teachings. It is a simple, undeniable fact that we are students of Christ long before we become converts to Christ. These "students" are, by definition, "disciples." It is also quite true that not every student of Christ Jesus and His teachings comes to the point of personal conviction that these teachings are true or relevant to his/her own life. Some follow with interest for a time, but drift away before coming to a point of conviction. Others come to a point of belief in what they have heard or been taught, but never act upon it -- "Many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (John 12:42). Thus, it is highly unenlightened to suggest that every disciple is, or will become, a convert. In point of fact, very few disciples ever become true converts. Jesus Christ had a great many disciples who were following Him about so as to learn from Him, however some of His difficult sayings (John 6:60) were more than some of these disciples could tolerate. "As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore" (vs. 66). These individuals had indeed been disciples, but they were a long way from being genuine converts.

This is really not "rocket science!" A "disciple" is simply a student. There are some, however, who seem to have great difficulty accepting this fact, or who, for whatever reason, want to make far more of the term "disciple" than is warranted. For example, after sending out Reflections #225, in which I examined the Parable of the Householder, I was contacted by Bro. T. Pierce Brown, who has long been a subscriber to these weekly Reflections. Bro. Brown is a well-respected and devoted leader in the Churches of Christ, as well as a noted and prolific writer for many of our brotherhood publications. He and I have not always agreed over the years, but he has always been respectful in his dialogue with me on various issues, and I highly respect him for his spirit. (Bro. Brown is also extremely ill at this time, and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments; please keep him in your prayers that God may restore him to his health.) As he read my article, he took exception to one part of it (and, yes, this good brother has given me permission to use his name in this article, saying, "You have my permission to use my name on any response to anything I send you unless by some strange chance I tell you not to"). He wrote, "As you have probably been told hundreds or thousands of times, you do an outstanding job of research before you write your Reflections. So I am hoping you will do another one on a statement you made in your Reflections #225. You said, 'A "disciple" is simply a student, and when the word appears in verbal form, in the passive voice, it simply signifies one who is being, or has been, instructed in something.'"

I did indeed make this particular statement, just as he quoted it. Immediately prior to the above, though, I made this statement, which I provide here for context: "Being 'a disciple' often leaves the wrong impression in the minds of people today. It does not necessarily mean one who is a baptized believer and a member of any one particular group or faction." I highly suspect that it was this statement of mine that caused Bro. Brown to react to the sentence that immediately followed it. There are some who simply cannot seem to tolerate the notion that someone could be a "disciple of Christ" and yet not be "one of US." Or, if not one of US, then at the very least not fully converted to Jesus Christ. Therefore, Bro. Brown, in a couple of lengthy emails to me, has asked that I address several very pointed questions he has posed to me, which I assured him I would be happy to do. Those questions, and my responses, follow.

FIRST --- "Were the Jews who came and were instructed by Jesus, having learned what He said, His disciples, or were disciples ONLY those who were trying to PRACTICE what He taught?" Again, I suppose this will depend upon one's definition of the term "disciple." The term itself simply means "a student." This is true even in the Greek, where the word is mathetes = "a learner, a student, one being instructed." The etymology of this word suggests that a disciple is one who "stands in relation to another as pupil, and is instructed by that person" (Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2, p. 372). Were the Jews who came to Jesus being "instructed by Jesus"? Were these Jews seeking to learn (for whatever reason, whether noble or otherwise) from these teachings? If the answer is "Yes," which it is, then they were indeed, by definition, disciples. Were they practitioners of His teachings? Well, some probably were, some clearly were not. The acceptance of teaching is not inherent in the word "disciple," nor is such acceptance necessitated by the term. That would certainly be the goal of the discipler (the teacher), but not every student who is taught is won over as a convert to that which is being taught ... not even by Jesus Himself, as we noted earlier (John 6:66). Over the centuries, many have come to learn at the feet of the Master; far fewer have stayed to faithfully serve Him. Both groups may be legitimately characterized as "disciples," but only the latter, by their obedience of faith, move on to "graduate school," so to speak.

At this point in our study let me pause to point out that converts to Christ Jesus, those who have responded to the teachings they had been receiving prior to their actual commitment to Him, will continue to be (or, more accurately, should continue to be) students of the Word throughout their lives. We never truly stop learning! Therefore, just because a disciple reaches this point of conviction and commitment, does NOT mean that he has reached a point where he needs no further instruction. Our growth and development in understanding and behavior is ongoing. Sadly, there are far too many "converts" to Christ who over the course of time cease being "disciples" (learners, pupils) of Christ. Some think they already know it all, others just lose interest altogether. Both extremes are fatal. Thus, not every disciple of Jesus will become a convert to Jesus; neither will every convert remain a devoted disciple. In reality, disciples of Christ will be found on both sides of the point of conversion; the ones prior to conversion growing TO the point of acceptance and obedience, the ones after conversion growing IN their personal understanding and practice of His teachings.

There is also no question that Jesus, as the Great Discipler, had high hopes of bringing many of these students of His teachings to a much higher level of commitment than that of the multitudes of followers who could be found almost everywhere He went. Jesus had countless "disciples." That is simply a fact. However, He sought to bring them to that point of acceptance where they would not only commit to growing daily in grace and knowledge, but where they would also submit to becoming transformed disciples. At some point in their instruction, therefore, they would be called to much deeper levels of acceptance not only of the teachings of Christ, but of Christ Jesus Himself. "Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 'If anyone comes unto Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me can't be My disciple'" (Luke 14:26-27). There were multitudes who were following Him and learning from Him; these were "disciples" in the literal sense of that term. However, Jesus wanted His followers and students to move well beyond mere curiosity or intellectual interest to genuine commitment and transformation of life. This required a sacrificial submission to Him, and it is to this our Lord called His hearers that day.

SECOND --- "Since the disciples were called Christians, were any persons who had learned what Jesus taught, but did not follow it, disciples?" Again, if a person has indeed learned what Jesus taught, then he, logically, was a "learner," and a learner is, by definition, a "disciple." The simple reality is, and any preacher or teacher knows this: not all who sit at our feet to learn from us will then go forth and practice what they have learned. That is just a fact. Their failure to put into practice that which they learned, however, does NOT negate the fact of their learning, nor the fact that they were students. So, the answer to Bro. T. Pierce Brown's question is: Yes! I would ask Bro. Brown if there are "disciples" of Jesus Christ in his own congregation who are NOT practicing what has been taught to them over the years? If there are not, I would truly love to visit that congregation!! If there are, as I suspect, then this demonstrates that not all students of the Word actually put into practice that which they have been studying. They are still students (disciples) of Christ and His Word, they have just not yet reached (or perhaps have fallen away from) that point of personal surrender in their daily lives to the truths taught unto them. How to motivate such lethargic learners to greater commitment and involvement is a challenge every congregation faces!

THIRD --- "No doubt with your extensive knowledge of various subjects, you have learned the doctrine of Karl Marx. Are you one of his disciples?" I was exposed to his teachings at the university, but never became a student of them. I did spend a great deal of time, however, studying the teachings of the existentialist philosophers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. I truly enjoyed philosophy, and took a good many of these courses during my time in the undergraduate and graduate programs at my university. Thus, by definition, I was indeed a disciple (student) of the existentialist philosophers. I was not, however, a card-carrying member of the existentialist camp. Why? Because my own following of this school of thought never progressed beyond the intellectual interest stage! I studied it; I didn't embrace it. I was a disciple, but not an adherent or proponent. One can be the former, without being the latter. This is something Bro. Brown seems to have difficulty grasping.

FOURTH --- "When Jesus gave what we commonly call 'The Great Commission,' it is commonly said that He gave four imperatives: (1) Go into all the world, (2) Make disciples (learners), (3) Baptize those learners, and (4) Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. You doubtless know that this is not exactly true. He gave one imperative: Make disciples. The other expressions have the force of an imperative, but are participial phrases indicating how the one imperative is to be done. ... Jesus wanted us to make disciples, and the manner it is to be done is by baptizing those to whom we preach, and by teaching them to observe all that He has commanded. As I understand the passage, if a person has indicated that he has no desire to do whatever Jesus commanded, it matters not what he may have learned, he is NOT, and cannot be, a disciple of Christ. If you disagree with this, indicate so in your article, and explain whether or not you think Jesus wanted us to teach in such a fashion as to make disciplined followers, or just to teach so people will learn and understand what Jesus wants."

There are several locations where one may find our Lord's so-called "Great Commission," with each rendition being somewhat unique -- Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8. Nevertheless, the commission of the Lord is obvious: unto those instructed in the eternal truths of the Kingdom befalls the divine imperative to share this saving knowledge with the rest of humanity, as they have opportunity, as they go forth into the world about them. As those who themselves have been discipled, they are to disciple others. Some refer to it as "exponential evangelism" --- disciples making disciples making disciples ... etc. In Matthew 28:19 we see Jesus saying, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (NIV). Bro. Brown is correct in saying that there is only one actual Greek imperative in this commission. The other three items are all participles. The phrase "make disciples" in the above statement by Jesus is the imperative, thus stated as a command.

Although many translations render this Greek verb (matheteuo) as "make disciples," some choose a different wording. The KJV, for example, has: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." The Message has: "Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near." Young's Literal Translation has, "Having gone, then, disciple all the nations." The charge of Jesus in this passage is quite literally: "While going, be ye disciplers." As we go about our journey through life, we are to be instructing, training and discipling those with whom we come into contact. That first participle is from the Greek verb poreuomai, which simply means "to go, to pass from one place to another, to journey, travel about." Thus, while we journey through life we are to be about the business of discipling. In other words, we should take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way to encourage others to become pupils of Jesus Christ; learners of our Lord; students of the Savior. Our commission is to disciple these people with whom we come into contact; instruct them in the truths of God's kingdom, that they may come to the point of conviction and acceptance of these saving truths, and thus be brought into saving relationship with the Lord.

Those students of Christ who reach that point of conviction, and who desire to accept the gift of God's grace offered through the atoning blood of Christ Jesus, are to be immersed, an action demonstrating their faith. Who do we baptize? That's right -- disciples, or more accurately: those who were being instructed or discipled by us. Notice what Bro. H. Leo Boles wrote on this passage from Matthew's gospel account: "Those who are 'discipled' are to be baptized; they were not to baptize 'all the nations,' but those of 'all nations' who were 'discipled.' ... Only those of the nations who are made disciples by preaching the gospel are to be baptized" (A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew, p. 564). If I have correctly understood what Bro. Brown said in his above comment, he seems to suggest that until a person has done what the Lord commands (and he is specifically looking at baptism), then that person cannot be regarded as a disciple of Christ. This, however, is NOT what Jesus is saying. It is those being discipled who are to be immersed, just as Bro. H. Leo Boles observes. Indeed, what benefit is there to immersing one who has NOT been discipled in the teachings of Jesus Christ? Brother Brown says we are to "baptize those learners." Does he not realize that "those learners," by definition, are disciples?! Thus, one most definitely CAN be a disciple of Christ, and not yet have done what the Lord has asked them to do in order to benefit from His atoning sacrifice.

Both prior to conversion, and also subsequent to conversion, disciples of Christ are to be instructed in the teachings of our Lord Jesus. Thus, while we journey through life discipling others, we are instructing them in our Lord's teaching. "To disciple a person to Christ is to bring him into the relation of pupil to teacher" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 595). And after these students of Jesus have been brought to the point of commitment and acceptance, and have demonstrated the same by their immersion, we are to keep on "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20, NIV). In other words, our training and instruction is to be never-ending. For as long as we live we are to be engaged in discipling others, and we ourselves are to be the recipients of continued discipling. "To disciple a person to Christ is to lead that one to become a follower of Christ, to be a learner in His school, to be obedient to His commands, to become a Christian. To 'make disciples' means to give all kinds of instruction for entrance into the church of our Lord" (H. Leo Boles, p. 564). "Those persons who are 'discipled' to Jesus, and who have then been baptized ... are to be taught 'to observe all things' which train and develop a child of God. Three things are commanded in the commission to be done, namely: (1) make disciples, (2) baptize those who are discipled, (3) then teach them to be obedient to all the commands of God" (ibid, p. 565).

Brother T. Pierce Brown suggests that the participial phrases depict the means whereby one is made a "disciple." I could not disagree more. The first participial phrase, which speaks of our "going," or of our journeying through life, is indeed tied to the "discipling" of others -- as we are going, we are discipling (or, since they both appear as aorists, we should say: as we go, we disciple). However, the last two participial phrases are tied to our obligation to those whom we have discipled in the teachings of Christ. Those who have been instructed in His truths, and who are ready to commit their lives to Him, are then immersed. As converts to Christ they are then the recipients of continued training and instruction ... as, indeed, we all are. "The syntax of the Greek participles for 'baptizing' and 'teaching' forbids the conclusion that baptizing and teaching are to be construed solely as the means of making disciples" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 597). Thus, "baptizing and teaching are not the means of making disciples ... The response of discipleship is baptism and instruction. Therefore, baptism and teaching are not coordinate -- either grammatically or conceptually -- with the action of making disciples" (ibid).

At the end of his question #4, Bro. Brown asked, "...explain whether or not you think Jesus wanted us to teach in such a fashion as to make disciplined followers, or just to teach so people will learn and understand what Jesus wants." Frankly, I think He expects us to do both. Obviously, in our early encounters with those whom we hope to disciple, we seek to impart the very basics, so that they might come to appreciate who Jesus is and what He expects of our lives. But, we dare not leave these students/disciples at this basic level. Therefore, we soon intensify our discipling efforts with them so as to "make disciplined followers" of our Lord; men and women fully committed to living lives of dedicated service to Him. I don't see the above as an "either...or" situation, but simply differing ways to relate to those whom we disciple depending on where they are personally in their individual journeys to come unto Christ Jesus.

FIFTH --- "A related question might be: If a person disciplines a child, does he do it by just teaching the child what ought to be done, or does discipline involve training the child to obey? What is the relationship between disciplining a person and discipling a person?" I personally believe discipline to be a vital part of discipling, even from the very early stages of discipling. Both instructors and students must be disciplined in their studies, and, as they journey toward greater enlightenment, there are times when loving correction, whether of teaching or actions, may be necessary. Virtually any responsible educator will tell you how important correction and discipline is to successful instruction of a student in a particular field of study. If I am a medical student, for example, and am learning to do surgery, it would be in my own best interests, not to mention my patients', both present and future, to have my work continually examined and corrected as I learn. Not only must I be "disciplined" (efficient, self-controlled) in my own studies, but discipline and correction will also be required. Frankly, I'm not sure what the purpose of this question is, as I know of no instructor or student who doesn't value effective "discipline" (in all of its many definitions and applications) in the learning process.

SIXTH --- "I feel sure you know the difference in the words Jesus used in 'The Great Commission' when He said, as the King James Version puts it, 'Teach all nations' and 'Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.' If I understand you properly, you think that indicates a difference in the gospel and doctrine. I think that anyone who has enough sense to get in out of the rain should know that there is a difference in teaching (doctrine) that is involved in becoming a Christian (obeying the gospel) and in teaching (doctrine) that is involved in living the Christian life. But I think that same person should know that the word 'doctrine' simply means 'teaching,' and that a person must be taught how to become a Christian as well as how to live the Christian life. So, my concept is that although there is a difference in what a person must know to become a Christian and what he must know to stay a faithful Christian, it does NOT indicate that there is a difference between gospel and doctrine, for the gospel IS doctrine, and the doctrine for a Christian IS gospel (good news). It does not take a mind as astute as yours to grasp that, but it may take a little thoughtful study to see it properly. If you differ, explain how and why."

Bro. Brown is, of course, quite correct in pointing out that the Lord utilized two different words in the passage, although the KJV rendered them both by forms of the word "teach." In Matt. 28:19, where the KJV has "teach all nations," the Greek verb employed, as we have previously noticed, is matheteuo, which means "to instruct, train, disciple another." While journeying through this life, we are to be discipling others around us -- i.e., leading them, as we are given opportunity by God, to become students of Christ Jesus (His life and teachings). This is a discipling process, which is multi-faceted, but certainly includes some form of teaching, whether formal/structured or otherwise. The other word (Matt. 28:20), which the KJV renders, "teaching them to observe all things," is the Greek verb didasko, which is normally translated "teach," and has reference to a somewhat more structured course of instruction. I believe the use of the two terms clearly favors a distinction in how one relates to two different types of individuals. To those whom we seek to bring to Jesus Christ for salvation, and to whom we share the good news (gospel) of who He is and what He has done for those lost in sin, we become "disciplers" (vs. 19). Once these disciples of Christ Jesus and of His glorious gospel reach that point of conviction regarding these basic facts, and agree to commit to them, we immerse them (which is their visible response of faith to that good news they have received) and then continue to teach them in the particulars of the Way in which our Lord would have these converted disciples to walk. Thus, I do indeed believe the two terms reflect the very position I have sought to convey in this study.

Concluding Thought

Brother Brown said, in his last email to me, "I want you to analyze, synthesize, epitomize and summarize specifically where we disagree, if indeed we do." I certainly believe this dear brother and I do differ in our perceptions of this passage, but I do not believe it makes either of us less beloved in the eyes of the other, although I suppose I shouldn't put perceptions like that in the mind or mouth of Bro. Brown. Let me say, therefore, that although he and I differ, I most certainly don't regard him as anything less than a beloved brother in Christ. I pray he feels the same about me.

In this issue of my weekly Reflections, which is the last issue of the year 2005, I pray that I have indeed been able to meet his challenge to "analyze, synthesize, epitomize and summarize" the areas of our disagreement on the interpretation of this passage. I freely admit that I could easily be wrong, and that Bro. Brown could be right. I certainly don't claim infallible insight into every passage of God's holy, inspired Word. I'm sure my esteemed brother would admit to the same limitation. Thus, we are both, at best, only disciples of Christ in search of greater understanding and appreciation of His will for our lives. I have tried to present a reasoned, rational, well-researched case for my own convictions on this passage. Whether I have succeeded or failed I leave to the discernment of the reader. May God bless us all in our daily quest to be devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and may our number increase!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

by Al Maxey
ISBN: 1-4137-8993-5
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Reflections from Readers

From a Minister in Alabama:

Bro. Al, I have just finished reading your book Down, But Not Out. To make a long story short, I've been grappling with the whole divorce/remarriage subject for practically the entire 15 years I've been preaching. It's probably the one subject that I've struggled with more than any other (especially with its practical implications). I was educated at an EXTREMELY conservative preaching school, and therefore was taught that there is only one way to look at this, and that anything else is heresy! Well, I've come to the conclusion that it's just not that simple. I'm still not sure exactly what I believe about all the different aspects of it, but I must say that your book was extremely well-written and very helpful to me in thinking through some of the many issues that trouble me. Thanks for your insights!

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Bro. Al, I recently subscribed to your Reflections, and I have also purchased your book Down, But Not Out. I'm working my way slowly through the book because I like to look up every reference. I am enjoying your Reflections very much. It's a lot of information to take in, and I have a lot of catching up to do. I really appreciated your piece on Christmas. Having grown up in the Church of Christ, it's always amazed me how hard we work at twisting ourselves into pretzel shapes over some issues. Christmas, of course, is one of those issues. On another, far more critical, issue -- Divorce, I can't tell you what a comfort it is to know that there are people in the church out there like you! God bless you!

From a Minister in Australia:

Al, may you and all of your family have a very blessed and joyous Christmas. It is my prayer that the Lord will continue to bless and keep you and so enable you to continue to spread the Word. Thank you again, Al, for your faithful teaching of the Word. I continue to share your web site with others, and all agree that you are caring and accurate in your teaching. I am amazed at the level of research you do for each article.

From a Reader in Toronto, Canada:

Dear Al, When considering the extreme secularization of our Western culture -- which has also infiltrated the churches, the influence of Eastern religions, that "Jesus Christ" is an essential cuss word on TV, and that an immigrant was puzzled over a religion based on profanity, it is important for believers to look for openings to introduce the good news. In a city like Toronto, Canada, where 48% of the residents were not born in Canada, speaking over 300 languages, with the largest community of Sikhs outside of the Punjab (India), "Christmas" could be a good and important opportunity to begin sharing the historicity of Jesus and the relevance of Christianity. The exact date isn't relevant; perhaps about September or March is as close as we can come. May the joy of the Lord be your strength.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, Thanks for a great job on the topic of Christians celebrating Christmas ... and Amen! Have a wonderful Christmas season, and keep the Reflections coming! I get so much from them.

From a Minister in California:

Al, Good for you, brother! One of the many liberties we have here at ---- ------- is to celebrate Christmas, complete with in-house decorations. Last night was our annual "Gift for Jesus" program where our members bring their "gift" for the Lord. It may be a song, a reading, a poem, a dance, a testimony, a letter with Power Point slides from one of our young men in China, or songs from our praise band. Last year a couple who'd spent years in drugs and alcohol gave as their gift -- their surrender to Jesus in baptism. That was exciting! What a contrast to the church in Florida where I was reprimanded for singing Christmas-based songs from our Church of Christ approved hymnal during the month of December! I even dared preach on the birth of Jesus before my inevitable leaving of that congregation. I, too, HATE political correctness, and I live in the capitol of that mess. It gets me in trouble now and then, I might add. Your Reflections article this week was, as usual, excellent. Don't give up the fight.

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Outstanding, Brother Al. That was a well-studied and well-written Reflections article. Yes, I will preach on the subject of Christmas this Sunday. Also, I will reflect upon the giving of gifts. I will also use the Scriptures that you submitted to us in this article. Merry Christmas to you, and to your family, and to your congregation. Again, brother, thank you for that wonderful article. That was so inspiring!

From a Reader in Ohio:

Hey Al, Why don't you say what it really is -- MERRY CHRIST-MASS? The Catholics started it. I guess you want to join that false religion. Paul condemned the early Christians who wanted to observe the religious days, months, times and years of a religion that at one time God commanded, and you expect God now to overlook anyone who wants to observe the religious days and observances of a religion He condemns? C'mon, Al. Yell all you want, Christmas is just as false as the religion that started it.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, Thanks so much for this article! It is such a tragedy that we ignore the birth of our Savior and His resurrection (Christmas and Easter). I'm sure that in some legalistic churches, if a minister just simply preached a sermon on the birth or resurrection on these specific dates, he would be fired! In our fellowship it is okay to preach specific sermons on Mother's Day and Father's Day, but not on Christmas or Easter! Merry Christmas to you and your family this year!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Al, You spoke what has been on my mind for the past few weeks! I attend a Church of Christ that chooses to celebrate Christmas, so my children are well-versed in the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, and they are used to celebrating it openly this time of year. Growing up in a very traditional Church of Christ, I never fully enjoyed this season, and I think back about how our witness to family members who weren't saved must have been severely damaged by our lack of acknowledgement of this holiday. How silly it all seems to me now. It's also sad to me that I find a kind of guilty freedom in celebrating Christ's birth on December 25th. It's amazing how ingrained these man-made principles can become! So, I join you this Christmas in openly celebrating our Lord's birth. May the joy and amazement at God's love spill over into every other day of the year!

From a Reader in Florida:

Dear Bro. Al, I wanted to tell you that this was a very thoughtful and insightful article. I thought you handled the subject very well indeed. My views parallel yours in many respects, but in others they do not (so, what else is new?). Nevertheless, I think that you entering the fight against those who would do away with the term "Merry Christmas" was a great and honorable thing for you to do. I watch Bill O'Reilly on FOX News almost every night. For several weeks now, he has been fighting the "nay sayers" about the phrase "Merry Christmas." He is a Roman Catholic, and he is very disappointed that the Catholic priests in general are remaining quiet on this subject. I believe that he would really enjoy your article, and it would encourage him in his endeavor. Please mail him a copy via the FOX News Network. A very Merry Christmas to you and yours.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, Thank you for this wonderful article!!!! This topic of whether or not to "celebrate" Christmas is something that has been bothering me more and more every year when this season comes around. My children attend a Church of Christ school, and every year I get a little angrier and angrier when they have their Christmas programs and concerts. It is all about "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Frosty the Snowman," with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior never being mentioned! NO songs like "O Holy Night" or "O Little Town of Bethlehem" are to be heard in this "Christian" school. I'm to the point of being sick to death of it, but the ultra-conservatives and middle-of-the-roaders run this school, and those of us who dare to question them are labeled as "liberals" and "trouble makers." I, like you, do not believe Jesus was born on December 25th. But, this is a time when Christians the whole world over pause to remember the holy birth that did happen, regardless of when it happened. How can we sit idly by and ignore our Lord on this holiday that has been set aside to honor Him?!

I am thankful to God that I worship with a congregation that has dropped all of this legalistic nonsense! Yes, we are branded and shunned by most of the other Churches of Christ in our area. That used to bother me, but it truly doesn't any more. I am happy to finally have the courage to stand up for my beliefs, to worship with a group who does the same, and to finally know the joy that comes from true worship of God without all the legalistic baggage that has been heaped on most of us all our lives. Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. Merry Christmas to you and Shelly. Also, God's richest blessings on you for a happy and healthy 2006.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Thank you, brother Al. AMEN! I'm sending your article on Christmas to everyone I know, and especially to my legalistic brethren! Since leaving the Churches of Christ I have been abundantly blessed with the joy of Christmas. I shall never look back. God's peace to you and your family for a wonderful and joyful Christmas! "O Come Let Us Adore Him!"

From a Minister/Author in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, Thanks for your essay on "Celebrating Christmas." As you have said before, with reference to some of the items I have sent you, I agree with probably 99% (perhaps 99.9%) of your essay. I admire the "holy fire" I saw in your comments regarding the ACLU and all others who would infringe on the rights of those who wear the name Christian. And your invitation (at the end of your article) for them to check with their travel agent tickled my soul. Amen, Amen, Amen! (Incidentally, Al, it is this same "holy fire" you display on this issue that animates me on this same issue, as well as on some other issues on which we have had exchanges in the past.) Two weeks ago I preached on "The Word Became Flesh." It is my belief that this is the most profound concept in all of Scripture, and the capstone of God's revelation to man. What a profound and intriguing concept it is! And then the implications of such! We, who are God's children, should deeply appreciate the implications of the Word having become FLESH. Your quotation from Alexander Campbell was touching and moving. Thanks for an excellent essay. Merry Christmas!

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Dear Brother Maxey, Thank you for this article. I have a person in mind that I will send it to. I am sure we will have a good discussion about Christmas, and also about the merger of a congregation of the Churches of Christ with a congregation of the Christian Churches. THIS discussion will probably overshadow whether it's "Scriptural" to celebrate Christmas!! I wonder, how do they conduct their worship assembly? I would really like to know more about it. Was there anything published in the brotherhood publications about this merger? I know a brother in Christ who was sent to another area as a consultant on a job, and he found himself in a situation where there was no congregation of the Churches of Christ, so he worshipped with an Independent Christian Church. He said the only difference he could see was the instrumental music. They were friendly and hospitable, and out of deference to him would sing some of the hymns a cappella. To me -- and to him, too -- that was a wonderful showing of brotherly love! Merry Christmas to you and your family.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, Great article. Thanks! As a child growing up in the Church of Christ it was always puzzling why we went out of our way not to celebrate, or even mention, Christmas in the pulpit, while everything all around us screamed Christmas and the birth of Christ. I wish my parents could have read your article 40 years ago! I truly enjoy your Reflections.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Thank you for putting me on the list to receive your Reflections. I had previously been enjoying so much reading them from the archives. They make me think, and help draw me close to God. What a great ministry!

From a Student at Oklahoma Christian University:

First of all, I want to say thank you for your insightful Reflections. This is only the second one I have received, and already I have gained much from reading them. On the subject of "Merry Christmas," as opposed to "Happy Holidays," I have heard that "holiday" derives from "holy day," thus making either greeting religious in nature. I do not know how true that is, but it definitely makes me feel a lot better when those who are trying to take religion out of this season unknowingly leave it in!! Once again, I greatly appreciate your musings, and, as a college student, I value the food for thought. Have a very merry Christmas!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I'm a very recent subscriber to your Reflections, and I have enjoyed going back into the archives and reading about various topics of interest. Even when I'm not sure I agree with you, you give me something to think about. I appreciate that! I do have a question regarding "necessary inference." I know from what little I've read that you're not a big fan of it, and I will admit that it has been frequently abused by those with their own agendas. But isn't there a legitimate place for "necessary inference" in interpreting Scripture? If there is a place for the legitimate use of "necessary inference," then how in your opinion are we to distinguish that use from the illegitimate one?

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, I just read your article on celebrating Christmas. Way to go, Al. Since being freed of my legalistic chains this past year, I have been shouting a big "Merry Christmas" to all I meet. How wonderful it has been to be free of the oppressing burden of legalism, and how sweet and fulfilling to worship the Lord in spirit and truth. Al, we love you and Shelly, and we pray that this new year will bring our faith-heritage to a better understanding of truth, grace and the unity of all believers.

From a Minister/Elder in Missouri:

Hey Al, Regarding your Reflections article "Celebrating Christmas" -- my sentiments exactly! It inspired me to write this week's bulletin article along the same lines. You continue to write amazing pieces! We hope all is well with you and Shelly. Have a very Merry Christmas.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Brother Al, I just had to write to you, after reading your latest article concerning celebrating Christmas, to say a heartfelt AMEN! For far too long, we in the Churches of Christ have seemingly avoided doing anything that could make us seem like the Baptists, Methodists or whomever (although it has always struck me as odd that we could sing the wonderful hymns written by men and women of those various faith-heritages, and loudly proclaim them as "our own"). In doing so, we have alienated countless souls who might possibly have come to a much fuller understanding of God's will for their lives had they seen more of a godly spirit in our own lives. Like you, I find absolutely nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that Jesus Christ's birth occurred on December 25, but that certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't celebrate the fact that the perfect Lamb of God came to earth! Keep on preaching, Brother Al. Thank you for your stellar work, and for being a voice of reason in the midst of insanity! Merry Christmas!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Brother Maxey, I have been trying to figure out just which Bible translation you use. I thought you were using the NASB, since your translation has capitalized pronouns for deity. But sometimes it looks like the NKJV (which also uses the capitalized deity pronouns). And then again, sometimes it looks like you "flash back" to the old KJV with its "thee" and "thou" pronouns in the text. It is not the end of the world, since your translation appears to be very accurate, but I am just curious if you are using a translation that I don't know about.

From the Director of One Body Ministries:

Al, "Amen" is too small a word!! Even a big, hearty "AMEN" doesn't do your article on Christmas any real justice!! Would it be okay if I forwarded this article to everyone on the ministry's mailing list? I think the whole of what you have written needs to be heard far and wide!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Again I find myself saying "AMEN!" to what you have written! The following is what a friend of mine experienced when we were members of a nearby town's local church that was (and still is) buried in legalism. This happened about five years ago, and at the time he and I were sharing song leading duties with a couple of other men. It was two Sundays before Christmas, during the evening assembly, and this brother had picked out a number of songs, some just one or two verses that he tied together to make a song service around a certain theme. I don't remember what the theme was for that evening, but some of the songs he selected were traditional Christmas hymns that are popular at that time of the year. After the assembly had concluded, and as he walked down the aisle and out into the foyer, several of the men were waiting for him there, and immediately surrounded him so he couldn't "escape," and proceeded to lay into him. They told him: "You can lead those songs at any time of the year you wish to lead them, BUT you will not lead them during December!" This brother left that church not long after that incident. I left a few months later when I was publicly censored by the "men's meeting" (the same men who were involved in the previous incident) for leading "contemporary" songs in the worship, songs that were a part of the song book we used (as were the Christmas songs). How sad it is that such people miss out on so much joy in remembering with the rest of the world the birth of a child that angels announced and about whom they joyfully sang. Grace to you and peace during this season of joy!

From a Reader in Colorado:

I enjoyed your Christmas Reflections a lot!! Another member of our congregation printed it and brought it to Ladies Bible Class this morning, and our teacher read it to the class. That, and a discussion about the 'how,' 'when,' and 'why' Christmas came about, was our class for today. Everyone seemed to enjoy it very much. The member who printed your article said she thought it was excellent, and probably the best she'd ever read on the subject. Our teacher liked the Iran part of it. MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you!

From a Doctor in Kentucky:

Al, I enjoyed the piece your wrote regarding Christmas in your recent Reflections. I remarked some time back on my blog site that it was ironic how much secular America and my own heritage (the Non-Institutional Church of Christ) had collaborated in the attempt to take Christ out of Christmas! I have become more and more shocked, the farther I get from my past heritage, at the things "my people" argue over. I've a few friends who are still in the NI churches, and the stories they tell regarding what is happening among them sound so bizarre, so strange, so absurd! Looking back, I see now how absolutely unappealing it is. There is no way on earth that the "average unchurched sinner" could look at all that and have any desire whatsoever to "join up." My wife and I send our warmest greetings to you this season. May Christ be incarnated in our lives more fully each year.

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Al, I've enjoyed reading some of your Reflections articles. I "grew up" in the conservative, non-institutional Church of Christ. Your articles have stimulated my thinking. I have now been challenging some of the beliefs that were ingrained in me since I was very young. Thanks for offering such an informative web site.

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