Issue #228 -------
January 3, 2006
It would be vain for me to
endeavor to interpret the Silence.
She cannot be done into English.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
The Silence Syndrome. I suppose God's people will forever be plagued by such silliness. Otherwise intelligent disciples of Christ seemingly fall for this doctrine time and again, leaving one to wonder if these men and women have truly ever given their interpretive "reasoning" any serious thought, or if they simply have chosen to content themselves with forever regurgitating the fallacious foolishness of their forefathers.
For many generations faithful and insightful biblical scholars have sought to expose the inconsistencies of the so-called "law of silence" or "law of exclusion." It is such a ridiculous interpretive doctrine that even a child could shoot holes through it, and yet the proponents of this "law" embrace it with an almost pathological loyalty, seemingly oblivious to the many logical and rational challenges that have been raised against it. I suppose the old adage is true -- there are none so blind as those who will not see. Those few who have embraced this "law of silence" as an aid to their interpretation of Scripture, and to the establishment of biblical authority, are truly the "blind leading the blind." The tragic result is that both they and their many misguided disciples will eventually and inevitably fall headlong into the deadly pit of religious legalism and sectarian patternism.
For many years I have sought to challenge my fellow disciples to seriously consider the validity of this aspect of their CENI hermeneutic. Some have done so; many have not. Early on in my Reflections ministry, I devoted several articles to exposing the error of this so-called "law of silence." For those newer readers who may not be familiar with them, I would recommend careful examination of the following: "Case of the Four Fasts" (Issue #12) .... "The 'Law of Silence' and the Synagogue System" (Issue #13) .... "Psalm 74:8 and Synagogues" (Issue #124) .... "The 'Law of Silence' and the Four Cups of Wine" (Issue #14) .... "Otherwise Than Prescribed" (Issue #138) .... "Two 'Silence' Principles: Letter to Dr. Stafford North" (Issue #15) .... "Specificity or Silence? Determining Prohibition and Exclusion" (Issue #15a) .... "'Law of Silence' Proof Texts" (Issue #16) .... "The Law According to Pa" (Issue #21). Needless to say, this topic is dealt with in passing in a good many other issues of my weekly Reflections, however the above few articles will present the case rather effectively as to why I reject this particular doctrine embraced largely by the ultra-conservative wing of my faith-heritage.
In spite of the best efforts of the best scholars in Christendom, a few hardened legalists nevertheless persist in proclaiming the silence of the Scriptures to be prohibitive in nature. The old restoration adage "We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent" is NOT the adage of the ultra-conservative legalists. They are far from silent where the Bible is silent. Indeed, it is in the presence of such divine silence that they speak the loudest! If God said nothing, then, in their view, that means He was "dead set against it!" Period!! End of discussion! Where God expressed no view at all, they declare His view to be negative. The New Covenant writings neither specifically condone nor condemn instrumental music in worship to God, for example. Therefore, according to this "law of silence," instrumental music in worship is forbidden; it is sinful; those who use it will go to hell. Did GOD ever declare such a thing? No, of course not. But, He didn't have to. The fact that He said nothing at all proves their point ... or so they claim. "Silence excludes; silence prohibits." It does not take a genius to see that such a dogma will come back to "bite" those who embrace it (after all, not even the proponents of this "law" are consistent in its application), and it has also led to numerous schisms and factions in the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Frankly, it is one of the most effective hermeneutical tools of Satan for dismembering the Body of Christ.
Every so often, some leader of the legalistic factions among us will determine it is time to once again drag out this "law" and impress (impose) it upon the minds of their disciples. In the past few months, two such men have presented a series of articles in their journals seeking to show the worth of silence in establishing Scriptural authority. These men are both very well-known and respected in their circles of fellowship within the conservative Churches of Christ. The first is Bro. Garland Elkins, an instructor at the Memphis School of Preaching, in Memphis, TN, and also the Co-Editor of their monthly periodical titled Yokefellow. The Director of MSOP is Bro. Curtis A. Cates, who devoted a couple of pages in one of his books a few years back to "marking" me as an ultra-liberal change agent and a danger to the Lord's church.
The second individual who has devoted a series of articles to this so-called "law of silence" is Bro. Wayne Jackson, whose articles have appeared in recent months in the publication: Christian Courier, of which he is the Editor. Wayne Jackson is a well-respected minister and author in the Churches of Christ, having served as the preacher for the East Main Church of Christ in Stockton, CA for the past 44 years. I spoke with him on the phone this past week and he was very cordial. I should point out that I have absolutely nothing against either of these men personally, and regard them simply as brethren with whom I have some major differences concerning aspects of the hermeneutic they embrace. I believe their views to be false, and also a detriment to the attaining of the unity in One Body for which our Lord prayed in John 17. In the course of this current issue of my weekly Reflections I will note some of their comments in regard to this dangerous dogma, focusing on two recent articles by Elkins and two by Jackson. Copies of this issue of Reflections will be sent to both of these men, and I would welcome their response and a chance to engage them in respectful dialogue about our differences in this critical area of biblical interpretation and the establishing of authority.
In the November, 2005 issue of Yokefellow (vol. 32, no. 11), which is the monthly publication of the Memphis School of Preaching, Co-Editor Garland Elkins began a series of articles titled "Silence of the Scriptures." He began by stating, "Every generation must fight anew the insidious errors of Satan. Error is error wherever taught, on the 'outside' or on the 'inside' of the church. The major difference is that error on the 'outside' cannot begin to do the damage that it can on the 'inside.'" The major concern of Bro. Elkins seems to be that there are those "in the church" who are seeking to undermine Truth by their "insidious error." Therefore, "faithful brethren" must silence these men who question the doctrines deduced from God's silence! He wrote, "...all the water in the world cannot sink a ship as long as it is on the outside, but it is when water gets on the inside that the ship is in danger of sinking. It is definitely true that the water is now on the inside!" Thus, these "false teachers" must be exposed and opposed if our "ship" is to stay afloat!
Bro. Elkins states, "A brother has written an article in which he seeks to confuse and lead brethren astray. In this article, he contends that 'silence of scriptures neither authorizes nor prohibits but is neutral.'" One of the readers of my Reflections, who preaches in Tennessee, wrote me and said he had just read Bro. Elkins' article and that I should take a look at it, for "he may be talking about you!" I had indeed seen his article (as I subscribe to Yokefellow), and had wondered if he had reference to some of my own writings. Bro. Elkins never mentions the identity of this "brother" to whom he refers, so it could be almost anyone. However, several of the quotes he attributes to this writer do indeed echo many of my own sentiments, although not always in exactly the same words I have used in my writings. Therefore, I shall not be so bold as to presume he is referring to me, as I simply do not know if that is the case. Perhaps this "brother" to whom Garland refers is no more than a composite of several persons whose writings he opposes. Nevertheless, I shall undertake to respond to his various arguments and concerns since they were presented to the public in published form, and since those sentiments which trouble him have been voiced by me in previous issues of my Reflections.
Garland Elkins quoted a statement from this anonymous writer in which the point was made that the silence of the Scriptures "neither authorizes nor prohibits, but is neutral." Garland's response to this is both immediate and curt. He says, "So what?" Such might be an appropriate response from a child on a playground who has been informed by another child, "My dad can beat your dad," but it is hardly worthy of an instructor at a school of preaching who is supposedly training others to refute false doctrine! The reality is: either biblical silence is neutral in nature, or it is not. If it is, then it neither authorizes nor prohibits. If it isn't, then one must determine if it authorizes, prohibits, or does a bit of both. If it does a bit of both, or only does one of these two, then by what verifiable, scholarly standards does an interpreter make that determination? These are interpretive matters that assuredly deserve something more rational and reasoned than a flippant "So what?" Why? Because the answers to these questions will determine one's doctrine and practice, the very area that has led to Bro. Elkins' great concern.
Bro. Garland Elkins then writes, "Does he think that because silence says nothing he has authority for instrumental music?" This is nothing more than a "straw man" argument that totally misses the point of the anonymous brother's statement. Garland leaves the impression in his readers' minds, though perhaps not intentionally, that this "brother" is alleging "authority FOR instrumental music" from the fact of biblical silence. That is simply not true! The fact is, this brother has clearly stated that silence "neither authorizes nor prohibits." Thus, he has declared it is just as wrong to assert the use of instruments is authorized as it is to assert they are unauthorized. Silence does neither. Thus, for whatever purpose, Garland is attempting to place a particular theology in the mouth of this writer, a theology the writer has already clearly denied embracing. One can only hope Bro. Garland is not intentionally seeking to do this, and does so only out of ignorance, as such a tactic would say far more about Garland than this anonymous brother.
In his article, Bro. Elkins does make an insightful comment. He stated, "When God specifies a certain action, He forbids all other actions." What these proponents of the "law of silence" repeatedly fail to realize, however, is that the above principle has reference to specificity, NOT to silence. When God clearly and unequivocally specifies an action, the authority lies in the fact of His specificity, NOT in the fact of His silence. These brethren will even declare this fact, and then in the next breath turn right around and say this is proof of their view of "silence." It's almost like they are not truly listening to their own words. For example, Garland Elkins gives the example of Nadab and Abihu (one of the favorites of the "law of silence" crowd), saying, "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered 'strange fire' which the Lord 'commanded them not' (Lev. 10:1)." Generally, they key in on this phrase "commanded them NOT" as a reference to God's silence with regard to the unauthorized actions of these brothers. However, what made their actions "unauthorized" was not the silence of God with regard to that fire, but His specificity with regard to what fire He actually wanted (i.e., from where it was to be taken). Garland wrote, "it is crystal clear that when God specified a certain fire all other fire was forbidden." Exactly!! Specificity, NOT silence. For a more thorough analysis, I would refer the readers to Reflections #63 -- Nadab and Abihu: The Nature of their Fatal Error.
Garland Elkins closes his first article by pointing out what this anonymous brother had said: "The command to immerse renders sprinkling and pouring unauthorized." To this Bro. Elkins responds, "Exactly! And the command to sing renders instrumental music unauthorized." What Garland is NOT pointing out to his own readers, however, is that in the previous statement by this unnamed writer the "pouring and sprinkling" are "unauthorized" as SUBSTITUTES for immersion. God specified immersion. Thus, to REPLACE that with something entirely different is a violation of God's specificity. The same would be true of singing. God wants His people to sing. It would be just as wrong to REPLACE singing with dancing or a piano solo as it would be to REPLACE immersion with either sprinkling or pouring. The issue of instruments in worship, however, is NOT a substitution issue, it is an aid or accompaniment issue. No one is replacing or substituting singing praises unto God with an instrumental recital. Instruments are merely being utilized as tools to enhance or assist the fulfillment of the command to sing, just as a PA system or Power Point slide show might enhance or assist in the preaching and teaching of the Word. The inspired Scriptures are deafeningly "silent" regarding these items also, but we don't hesitate to employ them (I would guess even Bro. Elkins has used them). Garland is clearly confusing apples with oranges, something commonly done by these proponents of the so-called "law of silence."
Bro. Garland Elkins is very much aware of this argument, for in his second article (Yokefellow, December, 2005, vol. 32, no. 12) he writes, "We must keep in mind that just because someone argues that something is an aid does not prove that it is to be used in New Testament worship. Before an aid can be used in worship, it must be lawful!" Really?! Is a PA system "lawful" for use in NT worship? Which "law" so specifies? The reality is: one man's expedient is another man's innovation! Both are highly individual and subjective in nature, which only goes to demonstrate that human preferences and perceptions should never be elevated to the status of divine precept. By the same reasoning Bro. Elkins would forbid instrumental accompaniment as an aid to singing, one could just as easily forbid PA systems and Power Point presentations as aids to preaching and teaching. What's good for the goose is good for the gander!
In the November 4, 2005 issue of Christian Courier, Bro. Wayne Jackson has an article titled "1 Chronicles 15:2 -- The Law of Silence." In this article Bro. Jackson discusses the case of Uzzah, upon which I have already commented above. Like Garland Elkins, Wayne totally misses the point of the passage, failing to see that silence has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Uzzah's fate. Note the passage in question: "Then David said, 'No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the Lord chose them to carry the ark of God, and to minister to Him forever'" (1 Chron. 15:2). True, God was silent about any other tribe carrying the ark of the covenant. But to assume that this is the basis of establishing authority here is absurd. In this passage God SPECIFIES the tribe of Levi. This is a case of authority by specificity, NOT by silence. Why these people can't seem to grasp this fact almost boggles the mind.
Frankly, if I was Bro. Jackson's logic professor in college I would flunk him for the course! Both Deut. 10:8 and 1 Chron. 15:2 SPECIFY the tribe of Levi as those assigned by God to carry the ark of the covenant. This has nothing to do with some "law of silence." If we must characterize it as a "law," then let's characterize it accurately -- it is a "law of specificity." To suggest that David learned the truth about the law of silence is an absurdity. What he learned was: When God SPECIFIES something, He expects that which He SPECIFIES to be obeyed. To try and argue biblical authority from what God DIDN'T SAY in these two passages is to entirely miss the point. It seems to me that this is an untenable theory in search of a proof-text, and the end result is only an exposure of the folly of both theory and theorist. Wayne Jackson is seeing a "LAW of silence" where no such law exists. What exists in these two verses is God's specificity; He SPEAKS, thus He is far from SILENT.
One can very easily understand, of course, why these ultra-conservatives feel they must attempt to establish the prohibitive nature of "silence." In the presence of genuine biblical silence (i.e., where the Scriptures specify absolutely nothing at all, one way or the other) they must of necessity establish this utter silence as prohibitive, for if they fail to do so, then that about which Scripture says nothing at all could just as easily be condoned as condemned. This, sadly for them, would forever remove the basis of their condemnation of the "denominations" for instrumental music, for example. To grant that such a practice might be a matter of total indifference to God is a death-knell to their sectarian exclusivity. Thus, they will fabricate "silence" in passages where God has spoken. They MUST do so, or their theology, and their factions, crumble around them.
In the December 16, 2005 issue of Christian Courier, Bro. Jackson again attempts to prove the worth of this "law" of his. The article is titled: "Hebrews 7:14 -- The Law of Silence." This passage is probably the all time favorite text of those persons who have embraced this so-called "law of silence." They parade it proudly, and refuse to listen to any reasonable, rational and logical challenges to their view of this text. Bro. Garland Elkins, in his article of November, 2005, characterized such challenges as "quibbling on such passages as Hebrews 7:14." It is hardly "quibbling," Garland! Here is what the passage in Hebrews 7:14 actually says: "For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests." Well, there you have it -- the "law of silence." Moses SPOKE NOTHING about priests coming from the tribe of Judah!! He was SILENT about priests coming from the tribe of Judah. Therefore, the authority for prohibiting priests from coming out of the tribe of Judah was the SILENCE of Moses. Right?! Wrong! The authority, rather, lies in the fact that God SPECIFIED the tribe of Levi. This is NOT about silence, it is about specificity. Of course Moses spoke nothing about the tribe of Judah! That is because God had already SPOKEN with respect to the tribe of Levi. One is almost tempted to utter the irritating rejoinder of our youth here --- "DUH!!!"
Was the Lord God silent with respect to which of the tribes of Israel would be the "priestly tribe"? No, He was not. God SPOKE. God SPECIFIED. The tribe was to be Levi .... and only Levi. "The Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day. Therefore, Levi does not have a portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance" (Deut. 10:8-9). See also: Numbers 3:5-10; 8:5-26; 18:1-7. "Thus you shall separate the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and the Levites shall be Mine" (Numbers 8:14). "They are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel" (Numbers 8:16). "I am giving you the priesthood as a bestowed service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death" (Numbers 18:7).
God had made it very, very clear that no one from any tribe other than Levi would ever be allowed to serve in the priesthood. God had SPOKEN. God had SPECIFIED. He was NOT silent. Thus, the tribe of Judah was clearly excluded from serving in the priesthood NOT because God was silent about Judah serving as priests, but rather because He had specified that only those from Levi could serve as priests. Which brings us full circle back to the Hebrews 7:14 passage. Judah was a tribe "with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests." Why was Moses "silent" about Judah with reference to priests? Because God had SPECIFIED the tribe of Levi. There was no need for Moses to say anything about Judah for the simple reason GOD HAD SPOKEN. God had specified. Judah is excluded from the priesthood NOT because Moses was "silent" about them serving in that capacity, but rather because God had specified that priests would come solely from Levi. Thus, it is NOT silence that excludes or prohibits, it is specificity. This passage has nothing whatsoever to do with "silence," much less any so-called "Law of silence." When God has SPOKEN, there is no silence.
Garland Elkins, in his article, warned of "the insidious errors of Satan," and declared that the apostle Paul "warned that the Great Apostasy would be an 'inside' job." I would tend to agree with this analysis. I believe Bro. Elkins has failed to perceive the true nature of that "error," however. Indeed, it is my view that he is helping to promote it. This so-called "law of silence" and its hermeneutical master (the CENI methodology) have done more to foster the countless feuding factions among us than just about any other device of the devil. It is indeed an "insidious error of Satan," and far too many have fallen for it. What is even sadder is that it is so easily refuted by anyone who dares to do just a bit of thinking. I pray that this Reflections article has helped to facilitate that renewed desire for reasoned, rational reflection, and that it has helped to expose the lunacy of this so-called "law of silence" that has done so much to dismember the One Body of Jesus Christ.
From Bro. T. Pierce Brown:
Al, I have just received and read with interest your Reflections article about "disciples." My concept is simply that what Jesus wanted us to do was to make "disciplined followers" of Him, but that does not mean we know and do all that He wants of us. It does mean, as I understand it, that if one does not intend to let Jesus be Lord, he cannot be a disciple of Jesus the way Jesus defined the term. Of course a person must be a learner before he can ever do that, but my conviction still is that Jesus did not merely want people to become learners, but wanted us to teach in such a way that those who heard deliberately chose to submit to His authority in all things. If I am teaching a person and learn that he wants to be baptized, but he does not intend to submit to the authority of Jesus in all things, I do not baptize him. I have never implied that a person must always do what Christ wants in order to be a disciple, but that he must desire to do so and be willing to do it when he finds out what it is.
From a New Reader in Colorado:
Al, Please send me the whole set of your Reflections CD's. I'm a new subscriber and have been encouraged by your mission. I'm a former Church of Christ member who struggled with all the rules and dogma that was poured on me by others (but not by God). Keep up the energy you have, and be humble!
From a New Reader in Nevada:
Al, Please add me to your mailing list for your Reflections. A friend has been forwarding me your articles and I enjoy reading them. Thank you for making me think.
From a Minister in Texas:
Your article on disciples was very, very well done, Al. What you stated has pretty well been my position for years!
From a Reader in California:
Dear Bro. Al, I enjoyed immensely your article on Christmas, and also all the letters from the readers regarding that article. I have taken the liberty to send it to some of my family (those who are both pro and con on the issue) and to a couple of people with whom I grew up in the Churches of Christ, people who no longer even enter a church building. I just like it when they can see "common sense" in print!
From a Reader in West Virginia:
Dear Al, I read with great interest this recent article on disciples. I had been taught at one of our brotherhood universities that it is our duty to go and make disciples. Usually the passages dealing with bearing fruit (which I now understand are being taken out of context) were added to the disciple passages to make it look like if we did not baptize people then we were not really disciples of Christ ourselves. I can remember the fear in my heart that I had let the Lord down; that I was condemned for not being more courageous in shouting the gospel from the rooftops. I had even "gone forward" and asked for prayers to help me be the disciple He wanted me to be. It was only after years of torment and doubt that, through the help of different people in opening up God's Word to me, I came to realize what God really wants from us in discipling others. Thanks for bringing this passage on disciples and discipling to our attention. It is timely, and it needs more reflection in our brotherhood. I do not know what kind of home and place you would like to live in, but I want beautiful mountain vistas, an emerald green mountain lake to swim in, pine trees to hear the wind blowing through, and a good brother like you to sit on the front porch and share the good times with! God bless you!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, It's a bright, sunny day in Atlanta, and I'm home today and really enjoying it. It's back to the office tomorrow. I've printed your article on discipleship and discipling, and I will soon go to my quiet place to devour it. This has been a good year for us, and we are thankful to God for all He has done. So much has happened in our lives. As I look back and see the changes we have experienced personally, I can't help but realize that God is so good! We are grateful that we have had the privilege of coming to know you and Shelly. We had prayed for help in our understanding very early in the year, and God led us to you. For once I listened as I should. So often I fail to listen, but I thank God that this time I did! It was really out of character for us to fly so far from our home to the front door of another Christian just to meet him! Some found this action on our part just a bit odd, if not downright strange! Our journey to New Mexico to spend a few days with you, however, was a journey that will be remembered, and will also be a part of our lives, forever! You're a good man, Al. Thank you for your patient understanding, kind ways, and loving heart. Thank you for having the courage and spirit of a warrior. May God bless you and Shelly again and again each day of the coming new year!
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Al, I thank God for sending servants like yourself who are devoted to proclaiming the Good News delivered by our Savior, and for explaining what discipleship is all about. A couple of thoughts occurred to me while reading your article. Yes, there is indeed a huge difference between becoming a disciple and conversion. Another point is worth making: we too often want to declare who is and who is not a "member" of the Body of Christ, but that is neither our job nor our decision! God alone knows whom He has added. My colloquial way of expressing this fundamental truth is to quip that my step ladder isn't tall enough to peer over God's shoulder into the Lamb's Book of Life. May the Lord of lords and King of kings continue to bless and inspire you, and all faithful servants, throughout this new year.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Al, regarding your article on the celebration of Christmas, I too have grown weary of our brethren regurgitating the same old weak, worn-out arguments against those who choose to remember our Lord's glorious birth, while they themselves enjoy the fairy tale aspects of the holiday with their own families. I am attaching an article from last week's church bulletin in which those who observe this special day are marked and demonized, and in which their practice of celebrating Christmas is declared to be a work of the devil. Of course, the use of CENI is sprinkled throughout the article. It appears to me that CENI itself should be categorized as one of the devil's tools. Look at what it has done to the minds of the patternists! Your article on Christmas was very good, as always! We hope that your Christmas was special and that the new year will be a blessed one for you and your family.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Bro. Maxey, Thanks for taking the time and making the effort it takes to research and write your articles! I truly enjoy them, especially when you use the Greek. You are doing a great service to your readers by challenging us all to think. Could you please tell me: just what exactly is the Non-Institutional Church of Christ? I get the idea from your writings that they must be very conservative in their teachings and beliefs. Anything else? I have been a member of a fairly conservative congregation, a member of a less conservative congregation, and also a member of one that might be considered a little on the liberal side in some ways. However, I don't know whether or not I have ever been a member of a Non-Institutional congregation.
From a Reader in Missouri:
Dear Al, I basically grew up in the Non-Institutional Church of Christ, and I am a 1980's graduate of Florida College. I really enjoyed your article on celebrating Christmas. I am reminded of all the years that I was taught it was sinful to celebrate Christmas. One year we even ended up not having a tree because someone "preached a sermon" about it. We have been out of the NI sect for about a year now, but have been gone from it even longer than that in spirit. I am amazed at how many of my friends from Florida College are now questioning the legalism that kept us all bound up for so many years. Thank you for discussing many of these issues so openly!
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Bro Al, There is a heart-wrenching and interesting discussion taking place over on Grace Centered Magazine's web site concerning a Non-Institutional Church of Christ preacher in Louisiana who began to question some of the traditional NI-CofC beliefs. He said he had studied for several months and then made his opinions public. The NI's mustered NI preachers from all over the United States to put pressure on his congregation to fire him (this congregation had no elders). After a few days of this, the preacher resigned. Now he is being black-balled by the NI's nationwide. Because you have an interest in these legalistic brethren, I felt you needed to read these posts. They can be found at www.nicocstudy.net. This former NI preacher has included links to each of his discussions.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, This is one of those areas of discussion where I never even saw a controversy until I read the questions from the good brother and your response. I have learned and continue to think that the concept of being a disciple is simply that of a learner (even a follower). Implied is a relationship between the teacher and learner. I would simply state that many can be followers (learners, disciples) without ever becoming a part of the Body of Christ. Many followed and listened to Jesus who it would seem did not follow through with obedience -- yet I would still call them disciples. Many may start on the path of learning (discipline) but find they are unable or unwilling (as you were with the teachings of Camus, et al.) to make the commitment necessary to proceed. In terms of logical argument: all Christians are (must be, should be, etc.) disciples, but not all disciples are Christians. Or so it seems to me as I have studied this over the years. As I said above, I do not see the controversy as brought forth by your reader. It seems once again that many are simply trying to draw lines of human fellowship and divine acceptance based on what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable, instead of what the Book explains.
From a Minister in Oregon:
Bro. Al, I think part of the problem with the whole "who is a disciple?" issue is that some tend to elevate the "disciples" in the New Testament as though they held a position of special status. Not that a student of Jesus isn't a position of some status, but some tend to think: "disciple" = future elder, or "disciple" = saved. Those who do not like to hear the term "disciple" used to refer to anyone who is in the process of learning are most likely uncomfortable with the fact that this would include brothers and sisters in other faith-traditions (and that these would also be "disciples"). There were all kinds of people, from all walks of life (sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors), who followed Jesus about, and He often spent time teaching them. They also were disciples! A "disciple" is not a position, but a description!!
From an Elder in Texas:
Bro. Al, That was a very interesting and thoughtful essay on disciples. I agree with your analysis. I see a distinct difference in gospel and doctrine, although, as mentioned, there is some overlap. As I understand the term "gospel" in the book of Acts, which covered about the first 30 years of the infant church, it was the message of the "who" of Christ and the "purpose" of the Messiah. I see the epistles as more "doctrine" ("...teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you") than "gospel," although "gospel" is certainly included. I am dismayed each Sunday as I teach Bible classes at how many rarely bring a Bible to class. I am reminded of the popular book: "All I Ever Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten." It's as if some are saying, "Now that I have been discipled to the point of obedient baptism, isn't my discipling over? Wasn't the end of my discipling accomplished when I was baptized? Do you mean to suggest that there is actually more discipling required if I am to be conformed to the image of Christ?" I hate to suggest it, but I think some, by their actions, seem to believe this! They have the "gospel" part of the great commission down, but I have some troubling doubts as to their understanding of the continued "discipling" part.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I really enjoyed your exchange with Bro. Brown in your last Reflections. Does one become a "disciple" before baptism? According to the great commission in the book of Matthew -- Yes, you do. I also have had several conversations with Bro. Brown (through email) in the past. I came across some of his articles on the Internet and really liked them. I hope he makes a quick recovery from his illness.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, I look forward to your Reflections every week. Even when I doubt that I will be interested in the topic you have selected, you have a way of creating interest. I don't know how you do it! You are a gifted writer! I have not written to you since late Spring or early Summer, but I have kept reading and learning. Have a great new year!
From a Reader in Virginia:
Al, Recently a Christian brother introduced me to Reflections. I can say that I have enjoyed reading the articles and they have always been thought-provoking. Thanks for stimulating the little "gray cells."
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Al, I was raised in the Church of Christ tradition, I can quote "chapter and verse" with the best of them, and I know my way around a concordance. But in recent years, perhaps because of some of what I have experienced, and certainly because of writers like yourself, I have experienced a paradigm shift in the way I experience Scripture. The message I see there over and over is that what is truly important is what is in the heart. I believe that when dealing with one another, Jesus is saying to us: "Put down the book and look at the person." I used to have a picture on my wall of a little old man with his nose stuck in a book. On the cover of this book was the title: "Ornithology." On the little old man's shoulder perched a bird. What the picture always meant to me was that the little old man couldn't see the bird because his nose was in the book. That doesn't mean that I think we should ignore the will or word of God. I just believe that sometimes we're so busy flinging verses at one another that we fail to see the damage we do. We're so busy being "godly" that we end up losing our humanity. Thanks for sharing your work with us, Al. Have a blessed New Year!
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Happy New Year! I am blessed and refreshed by your ministry in Reflections. Thank you so much! And thank You Father for teaching me -- reaching me -- through Al's work. I appreciate you, Al, and I don't even know you! Wow!
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