Issue #236 -------
February 22, 2006
Thoughts that come on
doves' feet guide the world.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
The inimitable Emma Goldman (1869-1940), in her essay titled "Minorities versus Majorities," made the following very insightful observation: "The most unpardonable sin in society is independence of thought" (Anarchism and Other Essays). Although her statement regarding the nature of an unforgivable sin is hardly biblical in nature, it is certainly true that independence of thought is a pathway that has led many a bold thinker to his or her martyrdom (both literal and figurative). Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) wrote, "Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth -- more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless to the well-tried wisdom of the ages" (Principles of Social Reconstruction). Little wonder, then, that some regard thought, and especially independence of thought, as "the most unpardonable sin in society." Sadly, this is especially perceived within the parameters of religion. Some of the great purges of history have been little more than efforts by the lords of prevailing orthodoxy to rid the earth of those who dared to think independently of the prescribed patterns of approved perception with regard to declared dogma. Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) defined dogma as "a hard substance which forms in a soft brain." Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) characterized it: "the anti-Christ of learning." Perhaps the infamous Chinese ruler Mao Tse-Tung (1893-1976) summed it up best -- "Dogma is more useless than cow dung!" If independence of thought is the unpardonable sin, then sectarian dogma may well be the sword-wielding executioner.
Our focus in this current issue of my weekly Reflections, however, is not on what some of the great secular thinkers perceive to be an unpardonable sin, even though they may well be quite correct in their surmising when viewed from societal and cultural perspectives, but instead we want to focus our thoughts upon what Jesus Christ characterized as the sin for which there would never be forgiveness, either in this age or the next. There are basically three passages in which our Lord speaks directly to this topic. They are:
There are several questions that immediately cry out for attention. First, what exactly is meant by the term "blasphemy," and is it equivalent to, or in some way distinct from, the charge of "speaking a word against" someone or something? Is the latter merely a clarification of the former, or is it something else entirely? And just why the vast difference in consequence between all other blasphemies (including blasphemy against Jesus) and blasphemy against the Spirit? What makes this one particular sin so grave that one who commits it can never, ever be forgiven, either here or hereafter? Perhaps most importantly, at least as it impacts each of us individually: have we committed this sin, perhaps unawares, and are thus eternally lost ... and don't even know it?! We shall attempt to address each of these concerns in the course of this reflective study.
The word "blasphemy" is simply a transliteration of the Greek word blasphemia, which is derived from two different Greek words: (1) blapto = "to injure, harm; hinder," and (2) pheme = "to speak; a saying; a rumor." Thus, the concept of blasphemy is simply to engage in any kind of "injurious speaking." When one says something with the intent to hurt, harm or hinder another; when one defames and slanders another; when one spreads destructive rumors and malicious whisperings, and speaks in such a way as to bring great, perhaps irreversible, injury to another --- that is "blasphemy." In addition to the noun form above, it also appears in Scripture as a verb (blasphemeo = "blaspheme") and an adjective (blasphemos = "blasphemous"). Therefore, to answer yet another question posed above, when the Lord talks of "speaking against" or "speaking a word against," He is really declaring essentially the very same thing, just in somewhat different language. Both are depicting one whose intent is to injure others with what is declared against them. Such intent is blasphemous, by definition of the Greek term.
Are there individuals guilty of blasphemy today? Absolutely! The world abounds with them. Sadly, so also does the church! Paul told Timothy that he had delivered a couple of men "over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme" (1 Tim. 1:20). One of these men, Alexander, he later said, "did me much harm" (2 Tim. 4:14). Undoubtedly, the great harm or injury done unto the apostle Paul, at least in part, was through the wicked declarations made against him by this individual. How many brethren in Christ today are similarly harmed or hindered by the many godless statements made against them? Paul instructed the Colossian brethren, "But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him" (Col. 3:8-10). Speaking so as to injure another is unfitting for those who profess to be Christ-like. "Let your speech always be with grace" (Col. 4:6). Good advice!!
There are a great many things revealed to us within the pages of the inspired writings of both old and new covenants that men have typically blasphemed throughout the centuries. Indeed, one might very well ask, "What hasn't been spoken against by godless men?" "For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (Rom. 2:24). In 1 Kings 21:10 a plot is formed to have some worthless men bear false testimony that Naboth the Jezreelite "blasphemed God and the king." One of the beasts of Revelation "opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle" (Rev. 13:6). "Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor; so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed" (1 Tim. 6:1). As Jesus hung on the cross, "those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads" (Matt. 27:39). In Titus 2:5 Paul speaks of the Word of God being blasphemed. James speaks of some who "blaspheme the fair name" by which they have been called (James 2:7). As Paul and Silas preached Jesus to the Jews, some of them "resisted and blasphemed" (Acts 18:6). On another occasion, the Jews "began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming" (Acts 13:45). And on and on we could go.
ALL of these many blasphemies can be pardoned, however. None of them are beyond the scope of God's divine forgiveness if one truly repents of them. Jesus Himself stated, "any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men" (Matt. 12:31), and "all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter" (Mark 3:28). All, that is, except the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Those who speak against the Spirit never have forgiveness, either in this age or the next; it is an eternal sin. Why?! What is it that makes this act of blasphemy so much worse than all the others? Why is blasphemy against God and His Son Jesus subject to pardon, but NOT blasphemy against the Spirit? Why the distinction? This is a question that has puzzled and perplexed students of the Word for centuries! The answer is largely to be found in determining exactly what someone does in blaspheming the Spirit. In other words, what IS blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? How specifically is this evidenced in a person's attitudes and actions?
A clue to understanding this distinction is also to be found, in the view of many scholars (and I would concur), in the level of spiritual enlightenment one has been given and the degree of personal perception of and active, willing participation in these revealed eternal realities. Thus, the doctrine of "available light," and one's reception or rejection of such, plays a significant role, in my view (I would refer the reader to Issue #158 -- Grace and the Caveman). For example, one may question or even "speak against" both God and Jesus as one encounters and considers their claims without committing the unpardonable sin. Jesus even says so! However, "in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance" (Heb. 6:4-6). The Spirit enlightens. Those who blaspheme the Spirit who has enlightened them, therefore, are beyond any hope of redemption. But, more about this later.
From the time of the early church "Fathers" there has been great diversity of opinion as to the exact nature of this sin and the identity of those who commit it. Some feel it can only be committed by non-believers, others that it can only be committed by believers, while some say both may commit it. Then there is argument as to exactly how one commits this sin. Even in the church today one will find very little agreement on this matter. Therefore, I am certainly not presumptuous enough to think that my meager contribution in this issue of Reflections is going to clarify the matter once and for all. I will simply attempt to present a few of the better known theories, and then suggest to the reader what seems to make the most sense to me. In the final analysis, it will only be my opinion, and should certainly be regarded as such, and nothing more.
One of the primary views one will encounter is that blasphemy of the Spirit is entirely a verbal sin, much like profanity. In other words, one does not commit "blasphemy" of the Holy Spirit until one actually speaks out loud some injurious statement against the Spirit of God. I actually heard a man state once that those persons who were mute were blessed, for they could never actually commit blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because they were incapable of speaking. This is somewhat similar to the view held by a few extremists that the deaf/mute do commit sin by signing rather than singing in worship. They contend that the Lord said "sing," thus rendering "signing" with the hands an "unauthorized innovation of worship." This, of course, is just one of the many absurdities of legalistic patternism. Jesus, contrary to such thinking, indicates that what we say, and what we do, has its origin in our heart (Matt. 15:18-19). It seems to me His focus was more on the heart than the lips, although the latter would certainly tend to bring to the light of day the contents of the former. Therefore, those who are mute would be just as prone to blasphemous thoughts as those capable of verbalizing them, even as they can sing within the heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). I find it very difficult to believe Jesus is suggesting only those who actually speak what is settled in the heart are culpable! Indeed, if both murder and adultery can be attributed to a person simply by the musing of one's heart and mind (1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28), why not blasphemy against the Spirit as well?
Nevertheless, there are those who will declare this view with great vigor. Bro. Kyle Butt, in his study of this matter that appeared on the web site of Apologetics Press, stated, "Using the working definition of blasphemy as 'speaking evil of,' it becomes clear that the sin described by Jesus was a 'tongue sin' that the Pharisees had committed, or at least were dangerously close to committing." Others, however, believe this is much too limiting a view, regarding this specific sin to be far more a matter of the heart. Dr. James Hastings, in his Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, writes, "Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit may find expression and come to its culmination in some specific way, but essentially it is a settled attitude of mind and heart" (vol. 2, p. 788); "the expression of a settled attitude of mind" (ibid, p. 787). "This oral blasphemy involves not merely careless words but the expression of an incorrigibly evil heart" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 960). Thus, the blasphemy of the Spirit is perceived as far more than just "uttered words," but rather a visible or audible manifestation of the condition of one's inner being. "Surely what Jesus is speaking of here is not an isolated act but a settled condition of the soul" (ibid, p. 645).
It is declared by some biblical scholars that the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is linked inseparably with the earthly ministry of Jesus, thus the only persons who could commit this sin were those who had personally witnessed the miraculous power of Jesus and attributed that power to Satan. This sin, according to this theory, forever ceased to exist when the Lord Jesus ascended from earth into heaven. "This specific sin against the Holy Spirit cannot be committed today since the Lord is not personally present on the earth" (Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 807). "In order to commit this unpardonable sin, a special situation is required. The committing of this sin presupposes the personal presence of Christ in manifestation of divine power" (ibid). This view is also presented by Chafer in his Systematic Theology (vol. 7, p. 47-48). Therefore, there is no actual danger of anyone committing this sin today, for when Jesus left this earth so also did the possibility of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit --- a sin perceived to be the attributing of the power of Jesus' miracles to Satan rather than the Spirit.
There are other disciples, equally scholarly in focus, who will agree that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is attributing the displayed power of Jesus Christ to Satan, but who will declare this can happen today just as assuredly as it did when the Lord walked the earth. The Lord, through His Holy Spirit, is still displaying His power on earth today, and to attribute that to an unholy source is to blaspheme the Spirit, according to this view. Bro. H. Leo Boles, for example, sees the power of the Spirit at work in the inspired writings of the New Testament, and believes that any injurious speaking against these writings constitutes blasphemy of the Holy Spirit today. He wrote, "The Holy Spirit came and perfected the testimony by guiding the apostles into all truth, and inspiring those who wrote the New Testament. If one finally rejects the Holy Spirit and the teaching that He gave in the New Testament, there is no hope for that one. If one blasphemes the Holy Spirit by rejecting the words of the New Testament, there is no chance for forgiveness because no other agency from heaven will be given" (A Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, p. 250). Thus, according to Bro. Boles, rejecting the NT documents is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit who inspired them. Bro. C.E.W. Dorris takes the same view -- "But when the Spirit shall have come and given His testimonies and revelations, the testimony will be complete, and he who rejects that will have nothing more to move him to repentance" (A Commentary on the Gospel According to Mark, p. 88). On the other hand, Bro. T. Pierce Brown totally rejects this position, writing, "Many have erroneously supposed that rejecting or criticizing the Word of God is blaspheming the Holy Spirit" (Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit, The Old Paths Archives).
Others, of course, see it as much less specific in nature, and simply believe it is the attributing of that which is good and holy to evil sources. "The sin described here is a perversion of spirit which, in defiance of moral values, elects to call light darkness. To call what is good evil (Isaiah 5:20) when you know well that it is good, because prejudice and ill will hold you in bondage, that is the worst sin of all" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 645). W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of NT Words, defines blasphemy of the Spirit as being "anyone, with the evidence of the Lord's power before his eyes, who should declare it to be Satanic." He says this is "a condition of heart beyond Divine illumination and therefore hopeless." Some believe God's power today is manifested not so much in actual miracles, but in the power of the Gospel to save and the Spirit to transform lives. Bro. Wayne Jackson wrote, "To harden oneself against the gospel plan is, therefore, blasphemy against the Spirit of God, and those who continue in such a disposition have no means of obtaining forgiveness" (Christian Courier, March 16, 2000).
There are a great many other aspects of this teaching by Jesus that have generated considerable debate throughout the centuries. For example, when He said this was a sin that shall not be forgiven "either in this age, or in the age to come," some have taken that to mean the Mosaic age and the Christian age, rather than the latter being a reference to the day of judgment and beyond. Bro. Wendell Winkler, for example, wrote, "Thus, since our Lord was speaking while the Jewish age was in existence, He was affirming that the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost would not be forgiven in (a) the Jewish age, nor in (b) the Christian age, the age that followed" (What Do You Know About The Holy Spirit?, p. 21). Bro. Gus Nichols affirms the same: "It follows that this sin, therefore, could be committed during the personal ministry of Christ, and was then committed, and could also be committed under the gospel age or dispensation. They could have attributed the works of the Spirit to Satan after Pentecost, the same as before" (Lectures on the Holy Spirit, p. 234).
Well, as one can quickly see, there is tremendous diversity of opinion as to exactly what is being taught by Jesus Christ in the passages dealing with blasphemy of the Spirit. One of the most difficult doctrines in all of Scripture is easily this one dealing with the unpardonable sin. Therefore, it would be extremely presumptuous for any disciple of Christ to declare himself to be in possession of perfect insight into these passages. Like everyone else, however, I do have an opinion, and will be happy to share it, for whatever it may be worth. It is my conviction that "blasphemy of the Spirit" is far more than any one specific sin committed at any one specific time. Rather, it is an extreme, and at the same time settled, condition of the heart and mind that may well manifest itself in various attitudes and actions in one's daily life in willful and knowing opposition to God's Spirit of grace. It is "a state of hardness in which one consciously and willfully resists God's saving power and grace" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 198). To again quote the Expositor's Bible Commentary, Jesus is "not speaking of an isolated act, but a settled condition of the soul" (vol. 8, p. 645). Dr. Gerhard Kittel, in his classic Theological Dictionary of the NT, said, "It denotes the conscious and wicked rejection of the saving power and grace of God towards man. Only the man who sets himself against forgiveness is excluded from it" (vol. 1, p. 624).
Dr. James Hastings agrees! "There is no specific act of blasphemy in word or deed, standing by itself, that we are entitled to think of as 'the unpardonable sin.' The phrase, in fact, is as erroneous as it is unscriptural. There is no mysterious transgression which is sufficient of itself to put a man beyond the power of repentance, and so outside the pale of forgiveness. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit may find expression and come to its culmination in some specific way, but essentially it is a settled attitude of mind and heart. No one can stumble suddenly into irremediable sin; but men may drift into it after the fashion of the Pharisees. Selfishness and pride, and not least religious selfishness and pride, may slowly harden the heart and sear the conscience and seal the eyes, until men come to call good evil and light darkness" (Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 788). Acts 7:51 speaks of those who "are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears," who are "always resisting the Holy Spirit." Such continual resisting of the Spirit's efforts to impact one's life will in time lead one to become so hardened that the Spirit will no longer be able to enter and transform the life of such a person. Such a one is said to have reached "the point of no return" -- they cannot be brought to repentance, and thus are lost.
Hebrews 6:4-8 speaks of those who have been enlightened spiritually, and who "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit," but who then have fallen away. Of these it is said, "it is impossible to renew them again to repentance." Why? Because they have partaken of God's best ... and have rejected it (this would also be a good time to read and reflect upon the chilling words found in 2 Peter 2:20-22). Those persons "who go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth" have placed themselves in a position where "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26-27). Such people have "insulted the Spirit of grace" (vs. 29). It is a hardness of heart and mind that insults the Holy Spirit, and leaves one with absolutely no hope of forgiveness. There is a harsh reality proclaimed repeatedly in Scripture -- men may resist and grieve and insult God's Spirit only for so long; then the Lord abandons them to themselves. Whenever this happens, they are beyond recovery! I would certainly agree with Bro. T. Pierce Brown, who, in his above referenced article, wrote, "My conclusion, therefore, is that it cannot be forgiven because when one does it he must be so depraved and deliberately hardened that it is impossible for him to repent. The Spirit ceases to strive with him (Gen. 6:3), and when God thus gives up on man, he is without hope!" (The Old Paths).
Why is this state characterized as being forever beyond forgiveness? In my view, it is NOT because God would not be willing to extend forgiveness to them if it were truly sought, but because when one has become this hardened in heart and mind that forgiveness will never be sought. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Confession of sin by these people will never be made, however; repentance will never occur; thus, they exclude themselves forever from His Spirit of grace. They are so irreversibly hardened by lives given over to sin that even when the end comes they are beyond repentance, and continue to blaspheme -- "And men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues; and they did not repent, so as to give Him glory" (Rev. 16:9). "And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds" (vs. 11). It is such a settled state of opposition to the Spirit of God that even when being destroyed they are beyond even the thought of seeking repentance, but instead persist in their blasphemy of deity!
"The person living in this sin will continue in his stubborn resistance, with blasphemous, outspoken mockery of the work of the Holy Ghost, until the end. The sin is not unpardonable on account of its greatness, but on account of its nature of rejecting all pardon. A confession of sin and a desire for forgiveness is excluded by its nature" (Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 180). "The reason why it cannot be forgiven is not to be found in this: that the fountain of mercy in God's heart is stopped up, but rather in this: that the opening for repentance and faith in the heart of the sinner is stopped up" (ibid, p. 334). "It is not so much that God refuses to forgive as it is the sinner refuses to allow Him!" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 645).
Many disciples have worried themselves sick over whether they may have inadvertently committed this sin against the Spirit of God. In my opinion, one cannot commit this sin inadvertently. If you have committed it, you know ... and couldn't care less. "Those who are troubled about it are most unlikely to have committed it" (ibid). "We may say that whoever fears that he has committed the unpardonable sin thereby furnishes evidence that he has not done so. Nor can any man commit it inadvertently or unconsciously" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 485). If you seek forgiveness from your God, and your repentance is genuine, you shall be forgiven. It is the person that has become so hardened to the Spirit of grace that he refuses to repent who will experience the eternal consequences of sin that will never be forgiven. Brethren, let us never become so hardened in our resistance to God's Spirit that we reach this point of no return. Soften your hearts and open them to His indwelling! Therein lies the pathway to enlightenment, transformation, and eternal life.
From a Minister in Oregon:
Al, Thank you for your Reflections. They are one of the few things keeping me sane lately, after resigning from my ministry two months ago. I am going through what might be called a "post-traumatic stress depression," and I often sit and wonder why I am going through such a bad time in my life. While I don't blame God for this, I can empathize with people who do ... it's tough, and you wonder when God is going to help. I pray that He'll give me the energy and the joyful spirit to return to ministry soon so that I can get out of this funk. I read of the people who do not like what you are teaching and wonder if they realize what they are doing to the church (universal). I must say that, right now, Al Maxey is one of the greatest reasons why I have not given up on Christ completely. Through all the pain, your articles have kept me going because I feel like I have a brother who really, truly cares about me and what I am dealing with. I know there are others out there who would agree right now. The timeliness of this particular article for me was obvious. You wrote, "We all face many trials and tribulations during our earthly sojourn, all of which, I am convinced, will simply make that great eternal reunion one day all the sweeter. How wonderful heaven will be!!" Amen, Al! Thank you again for your Reflections.
From a Reader in Indiana:
Al, Well I'm up again in the middle of the night, and how happy I was to find that you had mailed out your article a little earlier this week. Thank you for sharing what you preached on last Sunday. I wish I could have heard it. I too believe there will be recognition in heaven. I was reading today what the Queen of Sheba said to Solomon in 1 Kings 10:8, and thought of you -- "How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom." I just had to shake my head over the person who wrote, "Your article on Karma was interesting, but what a waste of your time. Go preach the gospel to a lost and dying world." Such people must not know what it's like to live in the real world. By the way, my husband printed off your "Twelve Laws of Karma" for the purpose of taking them to work and using them in meetings with his staff. He was especially appreciative of what you had to say in Law #9. I have read it over many times. It has kept me going. Thank you!
From a Reader in California:
Dear Al, One of your readers had written, "Your article on Karma was interesting, but what a waste of your time. Go preach the gospel to a lost and dying world." Well, one of my nephews has joined a Buddhist cult and IS one of those people who is lost and living in a dying world. Thanks for the enlightenment on the subject. Finding out about others makes us just one step closer to getting to talk with them intelligently if we ever get the opportunity. People do not care what we know, until they know that we care! Thanks for the article!
From a Prison Minister in Oklahoma:
Dear Al, With regard to the comment by the reader from Alabama ("Your article on Karma was ... a waste of your time. Go preach the gospel to a lost and dying world"), please do not let comments like this discourage you. That article was very helpful to me, as I work daily with people who practice that religion. What is trash to one person, is treasure to another, and to me it was a treasure! Thanks, and press on!
From a Reader in Florida:
Dear Al, I have enjoyed your last few articles tremendously. However, I do suggest caution with the Buddhist religion. When I lived in the West Virginia area, I dealt a lot with the occult, and there are many, many similarities between Buddhism and the occult. Also, I learned the other day that the apostle Thomas was killed by a group of Buddhist monks (according to tradition, anyway). I guess I am just cautious about the "inter-faith" movement that is happening in our world. I am not talking about efforts to unite Christians, but efforts by many "Christian" groups to unite the Christian faith with other world religions, like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Brother Maxey, I am 15 and go to a Christian school, but this school is over-bearingly conservative. My mom has been in contact with you before about this. Anyway, my Bible teacher, over these past few days, has been saying that clapping, musical instruments, etc. is wrong. I believe he is wrong, but I was not able to debate the issue because I am not sure where to find the Scriptures to prove my beliefs. He is also a firm believer in the "law of silence." I have read all of your Reflections articles on this subject and plan to hand them all to him tomorrow in a civil manner. I do not believe in being a jerk and being rude about this matter. I would just like to be able to back up my beliefs. I am Church of Christ, but a "liberal" church. My congregation, along with others like ours, is looked down upon by the "conservative" churches in Northwest Alabama. This seems to be the biggest problem facing our area churches today. I am not by any means trying to change the world. I am just tired of having to listen to the ignorance! I appreciate you and your love for God and your showing us that true worship is more than patternism. I went to Mexico for a mission trip with my chorus from school. The Christians there clapped and lifted holy hands, and not a single person had a problem with it. But when we arrived back home, doing it here is apparently a sin. I want people to open their minds and open their hearts. You have actually helped me strengthen my faith. Thank you!
From a Minister in Florida:
Dear Brother Maxey, Thank you so much for your insight and willingness to put your thoughts on paper so all can read them. You cause us to think (which is not all that common today!). Thank you!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I should have taken the time to tell you earlier how much I appreciate your work. Can't say I always agree with you, but you cause me to think, which is what we all should be doing always. I'm assuming one of the eight points in your sermon on heaven was recognition. Would you share with me the other seven? Thanks again for your dedicated work.
From an Elder in Alabama:
Al, I appreciated your Reflections article on "The Doctrine of Post-Resurrection Recognition," as I have so many others in the past. Primarily because I believe we do not meditate and converse enough about what our life here is really all about: Heaven and reuniting in the presence of our Lord. As so many of your readers have testified before, "You make me think," and that is good for all of us. We need to expand our concepts beyond the "physical" that we experience here on earth when we think of Heaven and Eternity. For example, the easy way to mentally capture "recognition" is to assume earthy human senses and organs and limit what God will give us there in our transformed state. Our recognition and awareness abilities in the beyond as spiritual beings probably will be based on senses (for lack of a better term) that are much different (and probably much more magnificent) than those we now encounter through our extraordinary visioning, hearing, feeling, tasting, etc. physical systems. Our "senses" there may well be beyond our elusive "sixth sense" here. And whatever will replace the functions of our earthly intelligence systems in our spiritual being is totally unfathomable to us now. I believe the joy we will experience in a spiritual realm by just His Presence so vastly exceeds our greatest good experiences here, that any hurts from bad memories of this life or other sources that we might retain will be "handled" by His new design for our being. In this same vein of thought we should all continue to stretch our concepts of Heaven. It is scripturally presented in human terminology which produces mental images limited by the capabilities of our individual intelligence here. Oh to be an angel who has traversed between the spiritual realm of Heaven and the physical realm of earth --- what might that reveal! And I haven't even addressed the role of absence of time in this little next dispensation intelligence journey. Oh to know Him as we are known! Blessings, and keep up the good work!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Hi Bro. Al, I always enjoy reading your Reflections. I appreciate the opportunity to think ... and to reconsider long-held views. Press on!
From a Minister in California:
Another good article, Al. As for the question, "How can we truly be happy in heaven if we recognize the fact that some of our loved ones are missing?!" --- There are many in my family that have intentionally chosen not to follow Jesus. That saddens me, but it does not take away my joy in Christ nor my anticipation of heaven! If I can experience joy on earth in spite of family and friends who are not walking with the Lord, I'm certain God can provide joy in heaven!
From a Reader in the South:
--- (State Withheld By Request)
Bro. Al, Recently my son and I were "boycotted" by a number of churches involved in an area wide youth meeting. The week before the meeting someone decided that we were "unsound," and thus unfit to teach new songs to the youth. One of the issues they used to "justify" their boycott was that women would be helping sing the songs as we introduced them. Now, go forward to the next area wide youth event, hosted by, you guessed it, the youth minister who led the boycott against us. Among their activities was a drama, with teen boys and teen GIRLS involved! Ironic. They put one person in the middle representing the sinner who needed "washing." Teens on the outside represented God's "washing machine." Different teens would go up and slap on a label with a particular sin, and it would "cling" to the sinner. Labels included adultery, murder, lying, and (hang on for this one) premarital dancing!!! The sin that took the cake, however, was this one: CLAPPING HANDS. And as the drama ended ... you guessed it ... the audience applauded. You can't make stuff like this up! I appreciate your writings, Al, and have recommended them to a number of people.
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, I am continually edified by your perspectives! I am ever reminded by your Reflections to look to the nature of God for the basic answers to some of life's deepest questions. When I ponder a possibly troubling issue like the one you dealt with (recognition in heaven), I am comforted by the nature of our loving Father God who will see to it that our Heavenly Rest will be a joy for all eternity. Personally, brother Al, I'm not worried! Heaven will be great! I look forward to seeing you there!!
From a Reader in Barbados, Caribbean Islands:
Hi Al, It is interesting that you should write on recognition in heaven at this time. Just prior to receiving your Reflections I had been discussing this same issue with members of my family. I wondered about my parents who are both old. Will they be the same age? And what about infants? And what is really meant by: "we shall know as we are known"? Does this not speak of familiarity? Like you, I do not know how God will accomplish it, but I do believe that we will recognize each other in heaven. Whatever the eventuality, our joys will be realized in far greater ways than our wildest imaginations or expectations. God be praised! Continual blessings on you and your family. Keep encouraging yourself and us all in the name of Jesus.
From a Minister in Arkansas:
Al, I appreciated your article concerning recognition in heaven. I do not doubt it will be so, but at the same time am reluctant to teach as fact that which God has not revealed. Being a music minister for much of my adult life, I've found it generally true that more of our theology about heaven comes from our hymns than comes from the Bible. Please know that I'm not quibbling about these songs. I'm happy to lead them when appropriate. I just feel compelled to point out from time to time that we need to be careful to note the source of our theology! Maybe it is because of this that the best song about heaven I know is: "I Can Only Imagine." I'm grateful for your ministry!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, After reading the response by Garland Elkins in the latest Reflections, I must tell you I am very disappointed in him, but certainly not surprised. If only more of our brethren would ask questions and seek the truth instead of accepting a party line. I too was once guilty of not exercising my personal responsibility to engage in logical, thoughtful inquiry. This failure ended up costing me many years of productivity for the cause of Christ. How could I have been so foolish?! Such cold, callous men, who place themselves in positions of leadership among the people of God, and who then fail to surrender themselves to the Spirit of God, must one day give an account. I cannot help but wonder how such men can live with themselves. Well, I'm a bit upset. We should pray for men like Garland Elkins so that one day God will open their hearts to the truth of His saving message of grace. For these men to add more to this counts His death as nothing. They might as well be saying, "Who needs Jesus? We have five acts of worship and sing without a piano. That will get us to heaven for sure!" I'm not sure how you do it, Al. It must be so difficult for you at times having to deal with such people. Again I say, as I have said before, Thanks So Much for your courage to engage our current religious culture and bring forth the true light of the real gospel. By the way, we now have more and more folks here at our congregation reading your Reflections! As you might expect, the reviews have been great.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Al, I was unable to assemble with the church this morning as there was too much ice on the roads for me to get out. We still have a winter storm advisory in effect. So, what better time to review some of the older issues of your Reflections, and in so doing I was reading Issue #19 --- The One Body of Christ: Family or Faction? The comments of the editor you quoted at the beginning of that article brought to mind a subject I have long thought should be addressed: "That building is the Church of Christ," a statement so often made by those not thinking. I believe this editor is of that clan. When will we get it into our heads that the Church is not the building but the people that meet there?! So, if they meet in the old grapevine arbor, it now becomes "the Church"? The Arbor Church of Christ on country road 109. You can't eat under it ... can't play a guitar under it ... can't play 42 under it ... and on and on it goes. 'Tis so silly the things we humans think up. Al, keep up the soldiering, and full speed ahead. God loves you, and will continue to bless you for the good work you do. You are in our prayers.
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