Issue #238 -------
March 7, 2006
Where there is much desire to learn, there
of necessity will be much arguing, much
writing, many opinions; for opinion in good
men is but knowledge in the making.
John Milton (1608-1674)
The word "opine" comes from the Latin opinari = "think." When one "opines" in a public forum, one is simply sharing one's own thoughts. Most all of us are rather opinionated, thus we each "opine" frequently. At times our thoughts are appreciated; at times they are not. Sometimes they are insightful; sometimes they are not. Either way, we generally hear about it. And that can be very good. If we dare to share our personal convictions in a public forum, then we should expect, and even welcome, the questions and challenges of others, and we should be willing to respond. After all, didn't the apostle Peter declare that disciples of Christ should "always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15)? Indeed, why would the responsible disciple of Christ, who boldly shares his views with the public, do otherwise?! Those who proclaim their views, and then flee from responsible dialogue regarding those views, or who cower in caves away from the presence of those who challenge their views, do not truly preach ... they merely pontificate. I firmly believe that if one believes himself to be "man enough" to speak for the Creator, he ought also to be "man enough" to defend what he says against all responsible challenges. Those who refuse lose all credibility, in my view, and their teachings should be given no more consideration than those of the hit-and-run, bomb-throwing terrorists in the secular realm. If one tosses his theology into a crowd, and then turns tail and flees for his cave when the crowd confronts him, he is a religious terrorist. Frankly, brethren, I have zero tolerance for such people, and will expose them and oppose them at every opportunity.
As a certified, card-carrying Night Owl, much of my reflecting and writing occur in the still of the night ... the late night ... and often in the early hours of the morning. I'm one of those "strange birds" who has never needed much sleep. Indeed, as a child I often resented having to go to bed; it seemed to me to be such a huge waste of time. I still prefer to be up reading, studying and writing over sleeping. The fruit of such late night reflection has been my published writings over the years, most recently in the form of these weekly Reflections. I love doing it, and as long as the Lord sees fit to bless me with the ability, the insights, the opportunity, and quiet nights, I shall continue.
One thing I truly enjoy is reading, studying and reflecting upon the thoughts of other disciples of Christ as expressed in their own published writings. This is especially true of those persons whose convictions and practices differ greatly from my own. I genuinely appreciate having my thinking challenged, just as I seek to challenge the thinking of others. After all, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). Thus, I try to include in my reading sources from all areas of Christendom, and from among all the many factions within my own faith-heritage. Some of these writings greatly edify me, some just irritate me, but I learn from them all. From time to time I will respond to some of these authors who have presented their views for public consumption, just as many respond to mine. Sometimes this leads to some very positive dialogue with sincere, scholarly students of God's Word; at other times, sadly, about all I receive is an outpouring of angry diatribe from those outraged that anyone would even dare to challenge their views. NO dialogue occurs with this latter group; they are not interested in it. Those who pontificate never are! My dictionary defines the term "pontification" as "pompous dogmatism." I think that hits the nail squarely on the head!
In the last couple of weeks I have been following with great interest what I consider to be a silver lining to a very dark cloud. The dark cloud is the looming presence of legalistic patternism. From this cloud sounds forth the thunderings of human law, with frequent lightning strikes against those targets that are perceived to be contrary to this theology of patternism. These "clouds without water" (Jude 12) are nothing new; they have been around from the very beginning, leaving the earth just as parched after they pass. "Heap big thunder, no rain," as the Indian chief might say. The silver lining I have noticed of late, however, is that a growing number of members and leaders caught up in this dark cloud of legalistic patternism are boldly challenging the once sacrosanct tenets of their factional theology. As a result of this growing reflection among patternists, and a boldness to speak out against such legalism and its lords, many are leaving the dark, roiling cloud to experience the sunshine of God's grace! I find this to be cause for great rejoicing, and pray the trend continues ... and increases.
Let me give a specific example of the above. Forthright Magazine is a publication that has been around for quite some time now. It is filled with a host of articles on various topics written by those within the ultra-conservative, legalistic, patternistic wing of the Churches of Christ. It is under the oversight of the elders at the Berryville Church of Christ in Berryville, Arkansas. The preacher there is Kevin Cauley. One of the interesting features about the online version of this publication is that the web site is designed to provide readers a chance to dialogue with the authors of the articles (and with one another as readers and commentators upon those articles) in a "Comments" area that is fully open to the public and where people's names are provided and visible to anyone who cares to go there and read their statements (in other words, it is not a private, password protected site, but a public forum). Needless to say, some of the articles, as well as some of the authors, generate more discussion and debate in the "Comments" section than others. One such author is Richard Mansel. Readers of my weekly Reflections first met him in Issue #206 -- Calcified Callous Recalcitrants. Richard Mansel is the preacher for the Lone Star Church of Christ in Falls of Rough, Kentucky. As a necessary foundation for the commentary to follow, I would strongly urge the readers to pause at this point and carefully read my above referenced issue of Reflections. It will be vital to a better appreciation of what follows.
On February 21, 2006, an article by Bro. Richard Mansel appeared in Forthright Magazine. It was titled: "Does The New Testament Contain A Pattern? -- Part One." The second part of this article appeared on February 27, 2006. It is imperative to note certain key words used by Richard in his two articles. In the title itself he poses the question to his readers: Does the New Testament CONTAIN a pattern? This, of course, would certainly suggest the belief that some pattern was to be found within the pages of the NT documents, and would not necessarily suggest these documents themselves, in their totality, constituted the "pattern." Such a distinction seems to be confirmed in other statements by Richard within these two articles. In his opening statement in Part One he writes, "Is there a pattern in the New Testament? ... The answer is yes." He then notes that some "people ridicule this notion, saying that the New Testament does not contain a pattern." He then declares his teaching to be "that the New Testament has a pattern." In Part Two of his article he wrote, "What is the pattern? It is the teaching within the New Testament on all manner of doctrines." Note carefully that Richard didn't say the New Testament is a pattern, but that the New Testament has a pattern; it contains a pattern; the pattern is within it. An important distinction for future reference.
Richard firmly believes, as do all legalistic patternists, that unity, fellowship and even salvation depend upon compliance with every particular of this pattern contained within the pages of the New Testament documents. One dare not deviate from "the pattern" ... ever. To do so can easily cause one to forfeit eternal life, not to mention being cast off from the fellowship of the saints here on earth. In Part One Richard wrote, "the pattern is specifically designed to facilitate unity." In other words, if we can just get everyone to abide by this pattern, we can achieve unity in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Comprehension of this pattern is thus a necessity! He wrote, "Therefore, we should be able to understand God's plan in order to be united." Thus, the pattern is understandable; it is knowable; discernable ... it can be specified. After all, as Richard notes, "God has not asked us to do anything within the New Testament pattern that is beyond man's abilities." Thus, we may know it, understand it, accomplish it. It is easy. And when complied with, the church will have unity; souls will be saved.
Fabulous! I feel like the woman at the well, who asked Jesus, "Sir, give me this water!" (John 4:15). Richard, give me this pattern! Specify for me, and for all disciples, the particulars of this pattern so that we may finally achieve this blessed unity for which our Lord prayed in John 17. Sound forth the pattern that fellowship may no longer be so godlessly fragmented among the Father's family on earth. Be specific so that souls may be saved from the lake of fire. You would expect these brethren to be shouting the saving specifics of this pattern from the rooftops! You would be wrong!! The reality is -- they won't tell you what it is!! I have been asking them for 30 years now to simply specify the particulars of this pattern. They refuse. In 30 years of asking, not one single person has ever supplied it. Indeed, they become angry when I ask. It would be like a scientist going into the rain forest and discovering a sap from a specific tree that can be refined into a cure for cancer, and then telling all who ask him for the specifics of this cure, "There's the rain forest. Go in there and figure it out for yourselves!!" Sadly, this is exactly the response of the legalistic patternists when pressed to produce the pattern --- "There's the Bible. Read it and figure it out for yourself!" I have been asking for this pattern, and getting this response (or non-response), for many, many years. I would refer the reader to a history of my efforts, all documented in the following issues of my Reflections. You will find them enlightening ... and disturbing.
As I had done previously, I took the opportunity, provided by the webmaster of the online version of this publication, to simply request of Richard, yet again, the particulars of this pattern. In the "Comments" area following his article, I asked, "I do not take exception with most of the comments of this article, but there is much left unsaid. Could/would brother Mansel list each of the particulars of this pattern, and specify the parameters of it? If faithfulness to God consists of following a pattern contained in the NT writings, then it behooves us to know exactly what that pattern is." This fueled a firestorm on that web site. As it turns out, I was not the only reader of Mansel's articles that was wondering the same thing. Just minutes after my question appeared, the following appeared in the "Comments" section from a reader named Bob Hogue: "Brother Richard, please give us the pattern. I and others have asked you for the 'Pattern,' but you have yet to supply it. Please be specific and detailed; this is important!"
Richard replied to our request, but did not supply the particulars of this pattern. Instead, he wrote, in part, "We seek a new homeland in heaven. The pattern is a guide to help us get there. It is within the pages of the New Testament in how we worship, how we live within our marriages, raise our children and conduct ourselves daily." Again, notice that Richard clearly states the pattern is "within the pages of the New Testament." He does not state that the pattern IS the NT documents in their entirety. However, he still has not provided the pattern, as requested. He has merely suggested where it may be found. Thus, I made the request again, and tried to present it a bit more clearly. I wrote, "what percentage of the NT pattern must be followed for one to be 'faithful to God' (your words)? Will 50% count as faithfulness? 75%? Must it be 100%? What particulars of the pattern are optional? What particulars are mandatory? If all the NT pattern must be observed to be faithful to God (and I assume you would condition salvation and fellowship upon compliance with this pattern also), then would it not behoove us all to know specifically and exactly the particulars of that pattern and the specific parameters of it? If faithfulness, fellowship and salvation depend on compliance -- if that is your assertion (is it?) -- then the person making that assertion is obligated to provide in exacting detail the specifics of the pattern." Well, you would have thought I had committed the unpardonable sin!!
Interesting diversion and redirection, but it does not answer the question. However, Richard does begin to position himself for "the standard answer" of the legalistic patternists -- the pattern IS the NT documents, in their entirety; therefore, read them and figure it out for yourself. Bro. Bob Hogue, who had earlier asked much the same question of Richard, realized very quickly where Bro. Mansel was heading with his response. He wrote, "Brother Richard, You post that we must follow a Pattern that is found in the New Testament to be saved - Yet you will not share this pattern!! Just saying 'read the Bible' is a cop out!" Bro. Mansel then brought out the other weapon in the arsenal of those who go to great lengths NOT to answer this question -- he wrote, "Sometimes an answer is not given to questions because the querist has improper motives." In other words, those who ask for the particulars of the pattern have "improper motives," and by virtue of this insight into the hearts of all who ask such a question, the legalistic patternist is thereby forever absolved from having to provide an answer to this challenge. Such divine insight into the hearts and minds of other disciples is a very handy tool; it comes in handy when the need arises to avoid difficult questions that might expose the inconsistencies of one's theology.
At about this point I was informed by Bro. Randal Matheny (who is the editor of Forthright, and a missionary in Brazil) that I was not to write anything further to the author of the article, or to the people who were reading the comments on that web site. Indeed, he informed me, "Your future posts will be deleted." The author, and all the readers, must be protected from anyone who would dare to ask a question that they simply could not answer! It was then that something extremely encouraging began to happen; something that thrilled my heart!! Others, who by their own admission fall into the category of "legalistic patternists," began also to challenge the author and leaders of the Forthright web site to respond to my question, which they were seeing as legitimate! This was a dramatic turn of events!!
Of all those many legalistic, patternistic preachers on that Non-Institutional Church of Christ Bible discussion group, isn't it amazing that not a single one of them was willing to simply list the specifics of the very pattern they proclaim to be essential to unity, fellowship and salvation?! Doesn't that make you kinda wonder WHY?!! Well, it most certainly made the owner of that discussion group wonder why, and his willingness to boldly demand accountability of those who for too long have pontificated without challenge is one of the first critical steps toward genuine reform! God bless Bro. Graves for daring to take it!!
The response by the author of the two part article was expected. He wrote to Bro. Graves, "Jonathan, to adequately answer Maxey's question it would require the publishing of a book almost exactly the size of the New Testament. God's pattern is from Matthew to Revelation. It would be superfluous to rewrite it." In other words, Richard Mansel has gone from saying that the pattern is to be found within the NT writings, to saying essentially that the pattern IS the NT writings. This makes it far easier for them to then say, "Read your Bible ... figure it out for yourself." Indeed, Richard informed me, "Al, I am not going to fall for this. It is clear why you want an answer. You want this list so you can pick it apart like a hungry buzzard. You can read the New Testament as well as I can. Your false doctrine is condemning you. There is no reason for me to list the entire New Testament for you. If you can't afford a Bible, I can send you one." And there you have it! No need to answer the question; I must simply read the Bible and figure it out for myself. Of course, if I fail to come to exactly the same conclusions he has on each and every passage in the Bible, then I shall be cast off as a transgressor of the pattern, and thereby unfit for salvation and the earthly fellowship of the saints. Richard won't tell me what the pattern IS, but I will know very quickly when I have transgressed one of the particulars of it.
The problem, of course, is this: No two legalistic patternists can agree on what constitutes the NT pattern! There are about as many patterns as there are patternists. This is why the church is so horribly fragmented into countless feuding factions, few of whom will fellowship one another, or even acknowledge the others to be saved. With each new twist of patternistic perception a new faction is formed. Oh yes, as Richard noted in his article, "the pattern is specifically designed to facilitate unity." That's right ... as long as it's Richard's version of the pattern. Everyone else's version of the pattern is godless digression. Thus, unity will never be attained by compliance with some elusive pattern, for the simple reason no one can agree on what it is ... and those who say they know what it is, won't reveal it. Pattern theology does not lead to the unity of God's family, but only to an uneasy uniformity among factionists. The sooner this is perceived, the sooner these many schisms in the Body will begin to diminish.
Another brother, Carl Mason, then jumps in and also begins to ask some very relevant questions. He writes, "Please! What elements of the N.T. pattern are essential to salvation? The war question? The one cup issue? The eating in the building issue? Head coverings? The Sunday school question? The offering issues? If you know, let us know!" Yet another brother, Cole Satterfield, then steps in and asks of Richard Mansel, "If you are referring to the pattern of an 'official worship service,' you should provide those Scriptures." And what was Richard's response? "Thank you for your question; I will keep it in mind for future articles." In other words, don't hold your breath! Then still another brother, Todd Deaver, speaks out, saying, "I am a patternist, and yet I think brother Maxey's comments deserve more careful reflection." He then continues with these thoughts: "The question is still a valid one: Does my salvation depend on my getting the whole pattern right? To merely cite passages that urge us to keep the pattern is not an adequate answer, because we patternists admit that some parts of the pattern are not essential for salvation. There are doctrines/practices we divide over, and there are others that we don't, though presumably any doctrine/practice taught in the NT would be part of the divine pattern. This is what makes brother Maxey's question a legitimate one: There are parts of the pattern that we consider essential for salvation, and other parts we don't. The essential pattern is something contained in -- but less than -- the entire NT. So it is not amiss for someone to call for those essentials." He then wrote, "All of us have, at least in our minds, an outline of what one must be right about to be saved. And it is on the basis of that mental list that we decide whom we should and should not fellowship. Now, if our outline or list of the essentials is a biblical one, what could be wrong with putting it on paper? Let's think this through, friends. If we are right, we should be able to defend our view. If we can't, let's reevaluate our position."
Exactly!! Amen! You know, what makes the above comments so thrilling is that they are coming from within the dark cloud of legalistic patternism. And this is the silver lining that I am finally perceiving! Oh, how this brings joy to my heart to see the light beginning to dawn in the hearts and minds of these people. This, brethren, is what our efforts are all about. By the way, for a good discussion of a very workable strategy for reaching those bound to legalistic patternism, I would refer the readers at this juncture to Reflections #162 -- Evangelizing the Enslaved: Breaking the Bonds of Sectarian Slavery.
Were any of the questions and challenges posed above answered by those who were being questioned? Sadly, the answer is NO. And, frankly, they won't be! Instead, yet another tactic of the legalists was employed: attack. If focus can be shifted from their teaching, and redirected to the teaching of another, the hope is that they can "dodge the bullet." Thus, rather than answer the questions posed to them by some of their very own fellow patternists, they went on the attack. Richard Mansel, the author of the two articles in Forthright, wrote, "Maxey wants someone to list the pattern so he can pit brethren against one another and pick it apart. He is wanting to 'prove' his false teachings. I assure you, his task is not noble." Kevin Cauley, the preacher at the congregation that oversees Forthright Magazine (and the webmaster for the web site), wrote, "It is clear to me that Al Maxey and his followers are exactly what Paul describes in 1 Timothy 6:3-5. He is only interested in doting about questions and disputing about words to stir up strife." Therefore, since Al Maxey is evil, and only wants to further divide the church, it is best for all "faithful" brethren to ignore him completely and never provide an answer to his questions. Such are the tactics and strategies of the sectarians and schismatics. How utterly pitiful. How the Spirit of our God must be grieved!
The important thing here, however, is that more and more of those caught up in this dark cloud are beginning to perceive their spiritual dilemma, and the evil that surrounds them, and they are speaking out at long last. In time they will be coming out. Praise God!! Keep them in your prayers, brethren. As Mark Twain once said, "Reflection is the beginning of reform." These brethren are thinking, and change is on the way! Let us be there to welcome them when they come into the sunshine of His matchless grace!
From a New Reader in Texas:
Bro. Al, I am devouring all you are saying in your Reflections, because through many years of God's leading me through my studies, and through Cecil Hook's teaching in Freedom's Ring, I too have come to believe at last in God's grace and freedom in Christ, as opposed to law-keeping. We have been so hurt by legalistic Churches of Christ before, which had kept me in tears, making me want to leave this group. But my sweet husband said, "No, we'll stay and try to make a difference!" Now our congregation is beginning to open up more and more to the true gospel of God's love and grace. What an awesome God we have!! Please keep the good news coming, Al, and may God continue to bless you in your ministry!
From a Minister in Australia:
Al, It was great to receive your latest article. Thanks for your continued challenging Reflections. The one on the unpardonable sin was a classic, and then to come up with this one on binding and loosing in such a short time just confirms again, to me, how much you are led and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Unless one is inspired and taught by the Holy Spirit, they could never come up with so many insightful insights week after week! Many thanks for your faithfulness, and may God continue to bless you and Shelly. Also, would you send me your PowerPoint presentation that you used with your sermon on heaven.
From a Reader in Barbados, Caribbean Islands:
Brother Al, You are so very timely in your discourses. There is simply no way that you could have known that my Sunday school class is currently discussing this very matter of binding and loosing. It has emerged because we are examining the issue of spiritual warfare. Let me say very quickly that your presentation has answered, or better still, it has confirmed a number of my own reflections on this matter. I like particularly the salient point that whatever is bound or loosed on earth is already bound or loosed in heaven. We do not dictate to deity, but deity has already dictated. I take refuge in the following -- I am loosed as a child of God because heaven has already ratified that fact. He whom the Son has set free is free indeed. The fact is: loosing and binding are predicated on the Word of God. Blessings to you and your family, as already ratified by heaven.
From a New Reader in Michigan:
Al, Thanks for adding me to your mailing list. I find your comments refreshing and engaging. I currently attend a congregation that is steadily moving into ultra-conservatism. The comments from the pulpit and in Bible study are sometimes vicious in their attacks on others who think differently. It has become increasingly difficult to see the worship service as something edifying. I have grave concerns about the direction of the congregation I have attended for almost thirty years. Over the past thirty years I have studied many of the issues that have divided those of us who are in the Restoration Movement. As I have gotten older I have discovered that my position has changed from patterns and legalism to one of a Christ-centered faith. I have seen some of my closest brothers and sisters driven from the church because they have a different approach to the Scriptures. I have an increasing concern about this environment of hostility and its effect on my children. Al, I appreciate your commentary very much. I find your approach to the Scriptures like a life-raft in a sea of confusion. I am hoping that as I learn more I can be an influence of reason in my home congregation. May God bless you in your service!
From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:
Bro. Al, Your discussion of the binding and loosing was excellent. I can say that because you agree with me! It was while reading your article that a light bulb went on in the corner of my mind. I have always had an unclear feeling about the picture of the "gates of Hades." What is the picture being painted here? I always think of "gates" as part of a wall, or fence; an enclosure; a defensive structure. Why would the church be attacking Hades? Why does anyone want to get in there? However, Jesus speaks of His "called out." Jesus came to call out those souls who are locked behind the gate. We were all the "living dead" behind the wall, in the dwelling place of the dead, guarded by that gate to keep us in. Peter's great confession is the basis on which Jesus creates His body of followers who hear the proclamation of the good news and make the confession. No gate is powerful enough to keep anyone -- who confesses Jesus is Lord, the Messiah, Son of God -- locked inside the dwelling place of the dead. I do not recall ever reading or hearing a lesson that made this application with reference to this passage. In the context of the "calling out" and the "keys," the "gates" now finally makes sense -- at least to me. The key that opens the gate to the kingdom of God is the same key that breaks down the gates of Hades. Thank you for the stimulation, Al. Have a blessed week!
From a Reader in Montana:
Bro. Al, I have never before heard anyone attempt to explain this subject ("Binding and Loosing") in detail. I've heard it read, I've heard it quoted, and I've even read it, but I've never understood what it meant. However, your Reflections article was outside of my ability to comprehend. Can you give a short version in layman's terms?
From a Reader in Texas:
Bro. Al, "Binding and Loosing" was another well-researched and well-written article on a very difficult passage. You handled Catholicism, and others who tend to be dogmatic and legalistic in their approach to those passages, in a kind way, and that is hard to do with such a subject. I have a good friend, who is a Roman Catholic, with whom I intend to share this article.
If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: