Issue #239 -------
March 13, 2006
The weakness of a soul is proportionate to
the number of truths that must be kept from it.
Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
The phrase employed in the title of this article may generate some degree of confusion in the minds of some. What exactly is "gender regeneration"? The term "gender," as usually employed by most of us in daily use, has reference to the classification of beings and things into categories of masculine, feminine or neuter. "Regeneration," in the religious sense, brings to mind a new birth, new beginnings, renewal, and is typically used with reference to the conversion experience. The phrase "gender regeneration," then, at least as it is used in theological discussion by biblical scholars, has reference to the respective roles of men and women in the process of bringing one into relationship with the Lord via a spiritual birthing process, and within a good number of churches in Christendom the focus of this salvific process is often centered on the act known as baptism. The question before us is this: is baptism gender specific with respect to those who administer it? To be even more direct: may women perform baptisms?
This is not as simple an issue as some might suspect. This question has generated considerable debate among disciples of Christ even from the time of the early church. Some regarded women as acceptable for this role of service, others were adamantly opposed to it. Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), one of the most able writers and theologians of the early church, and one of the leaders of the church in Carthage, North Africa, spoke about a particular woman, who was performing baptisms, as a "viper." He wrote, "These heretical women, how audacious they are. They teach, they baptize, they preach, they do all kinds of things they shouldn't do. It's horrible." In chapter nine of his work titled "On The Veiling Of Virgins," Tertullian declared, "It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; neither is it permitted her to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, nor in any sacerdotal office." This expressed quite well the sentiment of a significant number within the early church.
In the Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua, which is a late fourth century collection of 102 canons on church discipline and order (for a time thought to be a product of the fourth Council of Carthage), we find the following bold statement: "About baptizing by women we want you to know that those who presume to baptize bring themselves into no small danger. So we do not advise it, for it is dangerous, yes, even forbidden and godless. That is to say, if man is the head of woman and he is promoted to the priesthood, it militates against divine justice to disturb the arrangement of the Creator by degrading man from the preeminence granted to him to the lowest place. For woman is the body of man, has come from his rib and is placed in subjection to him, for which reason also she has been chosen to bear children. The Lord says, 'He will rule over her.' Man has lordship over the woman, since he is also her head. But if we have already forbidden women to preach, how would anyone want to permit them to enter the priesthood? It would be unnatural. For women to be priests is an error of heathen godlessness, and not of Christ's way. But if women are permitted to baptize, then Christ would surely have been baptized by His mother and not by John, and He would have sent women with us to baptize also when He sent us out to baptize. But now the Lord never made any such arrangements nor left us with any such scriptural admonition, since He as Creator of nature and founder of its order knew the gradations of nature and what is proper."
Clearly, there was a rather strict, fundamentalist element within the church of the first few hundred years that was fully convicted that women were to play no role whatsoever in the leadership of the church or the administration of the sacraments. They were viewed as being subservient to men, and for them to "leave their appointed place" was to defy the intent of the Creator Himself. Needless to say, that same point of view exists among many fundamentalists to this very day, and has led to no small amount of conflict among the genders within the modern church. Indeed, some regard "The Role of Women in the Church" to be one of the greatest challenges the church must face as it enters the 21st century. I have sought to address this matter to some degree in an earlier issue of my weekly Reflections --- Issue #113 --- to which I would refer the reader for additional analysis of this growing concern. I would also recommend a reading of Issue #216, especially as it pertains to the concept of authority.
With regard to gender issues associated with regeneration there is an alternative view, and it also dates back to the time of the early church. This is the conviction that a woman may administer baptism to another disciple, although it was almost exclusively restricted to women baptizing other women. The church of the Middle Ages developed what was known as "Emergency Baptism" where a woman could perform the baptism of either a male or female candidate IF a situation arose where no man could be found to administer "the sacrament of baptism." Such occurrences were extremely rare, however. More common was allowing the women to baptize the women, rather than subjecting "weak men" to the temptations associated with such close proximity to "women being washed in water." Thus, women administering baptism for other women was primarily for the purpose of protecting the men from committing the sin of lust.
The Apostolic Constitutions, which purports to be the work of the Apostles of Jesus (though it clearly is not), is actually a fourth century document filled with "treatises on Christian discipline, worship, and doctrine, and was intended to serve as a manual of guidance for the clergy, and to some extent for the laity" (The Catholic Encyclopedia). This document clearly allows women who are recognized as deaconesses in the church to perform baptisms for other women, as long as they are doing so under the authority of a male leader in the church. The elders of the church were to "anoint the head of those that are to be baptized, whether they be men or women, with the holy oil." After this is done, the presbyter was to "name over them the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit," and the person was then to be baptized. Men were to baptize men, and "a deaconess the women, so that the conferring of this inviolable seal may take place with a becoming decency" (III, no. 16). The Apostolic Constitutions also declares that the church should "Ordain a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministrations toward women." This was to be done, especially with regard to baptism, "on account of the imaginations of the bad ... for there is no necessity that the women should be seen by the men" (III, no. 15).
Part of the reason for this concern about the "bad imaginations" of the males involved is that in some places in the early church it was the practice for those being baptized to be immersed in the nude. This custom is discussed by Dr. Everett Ferguson in his study titled "Baptism in the Patristic Period." Brother Ferguson, a member of the Churches of Christ who received his Ph.D. "with distinction" from Harvard University in 1960, and who has authored numerous scholarly books, is Professor of Church History Emeritus at Abilene Christian University. In the above referenced study he wrote, "Just prior to entering the water the candidates removed their clothes, for the baptism was received nude. This surprises moderns, for we wonder about modesty. This may be a consideration in the instructions of the Apostolic Tradition (21.4-5) to baptize the small children first, the grown men next, and finally the women. In order to observe decency, women deacons assisted at the baptism of women according to the third century Didascalia (16), repeated in the fourth century Apostolic Constitutions (3.15-16). In the baptism of a woman, the male presbyter anointed the forehead, pronounced the formula, and dipped the head, but the female deacon anointed the body and received the woman as she came out of the water. Some baptisteries may have had curtains. Another factor is that the ancient world seems to have had a more relaxed attitude toward nudity. The nudity expressed the idea of a new birth -- hence in art the baptized person is shown not only in the nude, but also smaller than the baptizer. This manner of representation is not an indication of infant or child baptism, but follows artistic convention. The newly baptized person put on a white garment afterward, symbolizing purity."
In light of this early custom, it is easy to see why women would be selected to serve at least as assistants to the baptism of women, and in some cases to actually perform the baptism itself, with men removed from sight. Such women servants would in no sense be usurping authority over men, but would, in fact, be submitting to their authority (after all, it was the men who urged them to perform this service lest they [the men] be tempted in the immersing of a nude woman). It wasn't long, however, before this custom pretty much faded from view, thus leading some scholars in the first several centuries to question any further need for women to perform baptisms. Therefore, it was no longer a question of propriety or decency, but now more a question of authority. This is primarily the issue behind the debate today. In many conservative fellowships within Christendom today, women are forbidden to "take the lead" in any way that might even hint at an exercise of authority over men. This would include preaching in the assembly, teaching a class in which adult males were present, leading public prayers, leading the song service, officiating at the Lord's Table, serving as elders or deacons, and the like.
As one will quickly see from reading my above referenced Reflections article on the role of women in the church --- Issue #113 --- it is my conviction that our Creator did indeed intend for men to take the spiritual lead, both in the church and in the family. Thus, it is my view that some roles are inappropriate for women. However, in many cases, I believe we have greatly over-reacted in the church, and, as a result, have suppressed the service of our godly women far more than is warranted by a reasoned study of Scripture. In my view, too many men have taken this "authority" concept and abused it by employing it as an iron fist to keep a segment of the church (the women) "in their place." It is no better, in my opinion, than the husband who employs Eph. 5:22-23 as his "authority" to RULE over his wife, keeping her "barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen" where she belongs! Such husbands truly don't have a clue ... and neither do such men who seek to relegate women to positions of inferiority in the church.
Yes, men and women are different, and they have differing functions in the One Body, just as they have differing functions in the home. Having differing roles, however, does not equate to the superiority of one over the other. And frankly, brethren, this argument that women performing certain actions in the church constitutes "usurping authority" is absolute nonsense. For example: in what possible sense would a woman passing out the trays to the congregation during the Lord's Supper constitute usurping authority over a man? Is she not actually serving the men as she passes the trays to them? I have actually had someone suggest that perhaps the woman is "usurping authority" over the man by sitting in the pew and having him serve the communion to her. We can certainly get ridiculous, can't we?!
In what possible way would a woman performing a baptism "usurp authority" over a man? And if an elder, for example, asks a woman to perform the baptism of another woman, because he personally feels it would be "unseemly" for him to do so, would this sister then be submitting to his authority, rather than usurping it or defying it? I believe she would. I have known several cases where a female member of the church had studied with a close friend, and when that friend was ready to be baptized, she asked her friend, who had led her to Christ, to immerse her. Indeed, this happened here just a few weeks ago. I sat down with both women and we discussed this request, and decided that since a few in our congregation might have a problem with this, that I would administer the baptism. However, I personally would have had NO problem with this woman baptizing her friend.
Let's face it, brethren -- the Scriptures do not place any great significance upon the one performing the baptism. There are no qualifications, to my knowledge, for one to meet in order to be "ordained" as an "official administrator of baptism." Bro. Tim O'Hearn, a member of the Riverside Church of Christ in Albuquerque, New Mexico (where my wife's father used to be an elder years ago), in his publication "Minutes With Messiah," wrote, "What appears important is not who does the immersing, but why one is immersed. ... To require that one be baptized in a 'Church of Christ' baptistery by a 'Church of Christ' preacher ignores the purpose and effectiveness of immersion. ... As I understand it, baptism by a woman, a man, a Martian (if there were such a thing), or even an atheist would still be a proper immersion as long as the recipient is doing it out of faith."
My point should be rather clear --- the validity of one's baptism is NOT conditioned upon the person performing it. Thus, whether the one lowering you into the water is Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Baptist or baboon, is irrelevant!! It is the heart of the one being immersed that determines the validity of the baptism in the sight of God. So, do I have a problem with women performing baptisms? No, I do not. The only time I would have a problem is if it was going to occur before a congregation of believers that I knew would have difficulty accepting this practice. Like the apostle Paul, I would prefer to step back from exercising such freedom if in doing so I caused someone to genuinely stumble. I believe we need to be considerate of our brethren who may be unsettled in faith, and who are not yet at that point of spiritual maturity where they can enjoy such liberty. However, in the absence of such persons who may be unsettled on the matter, I would have no objection whatsoever to a woman performing the baptism, if she had been requested to do so. I find nothing in Scripture that suggests such a practice would in any way "usurp" anyone's authority. In my opinion, baptizing someone is not about "authority" (especially not about the "authority" of the one performing it), rather it is simply an honor and privilege to help facilitate another's entrance into the One Body. We are all merely servants in that process; no one servant superior to another. Thus, there is no authority to usurp in simply immersing a penitent believer into Christ.
From a Reader in Michigan:
Al, I am nearly finished with your book Down, But Not Out. The book has been wonderfully comforting. Long before this issue became personal for me, I had my doubts about the church's traditional teaching on divorce. It always seemed to me that it was unduly harsh, and that it flew in the face of logic, sense and compassion. I was never able to come up with reasoned arguments, but I just felt that what we believed simply didn't make sense in light of a compassionate and just God. Thus, it has meant a lot to me to read your reasoned approach to the issue. Thanks for writing this book! It's still traveling with me in my voluminous pocketbook, but soon will have an honored place on my bookcase headboard where I can get to it when needed! It means a lot to know that there are people out there who see things another way than what has been traditionally taught in Churches of Christ.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, Thank you for your continued diligence in ascertaining, as best one can, the will of God. I love your expression, "You don't have to be my twin to be my brother." And, by the way, you and I aren't -- twins, that is! Would you please send me the three CD's of all your archived Reflections (years 2003, 2004, and 2005). My check is enclosed. May God bless you and keep you!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, I just wanted you to know that you are the topic of my latest blog posting ("A Religious Question," March 8, 2006). You can read my post at the following URL --- http://georgeinauburn.blogspot.com/
From My Beloved Mother in Colorado:
I just read your "Night Owl" article in Reflections. You sure rattled somebody's cage, didn't you!!! Maybe you need to start carrying a concealed weapon! I cannot believe that in this day and age there are "over-lords" who tell people what they can and cannot read, and actually expect to be obeyed!!! I'm so hard-headed I'd go read it just because I was told not to! I also enjoyed your article on "bound and loosed." Sometime or other, and I can't really recall when, or who was doing the preaching or writing, I was taught that that passage should be interpreted (just as you did): "Whatever you bind on earth, has been bound in heaven." By the way, you have every right to be a night owl -- it's genetic. My dad was, I am, so you inherited the gene!!
From a Reader in Texas:
You must be doing a lot of things right, Bro. Al. The devil and his minions (clothed as angels of light) are attacking you from their strongholds! But, how wonderful it is that questioning, thoughtful souls from within those strongholds have joined our battle! How the angels must rejoice!
From a Minister in Florida:
Al, Thanks for another great article. Your articles are always thought-provoking and insightful. I rejoice with you that a few rays of sunlight are beginning to shine through the fog of patternistic thought, but be assured, Al, that truth-telling can put you in harm's way, as our dear Lord can attest. The account of your adversaries trying to silence your web presence serves as a sad reminder of the lengths to which some people will go to protect their ill-conceived ideas. Keep up the good work and have a blessed day. Please know that you are in my prayers!
From a Minister in California:
Wow!! I have just two words with reference to your latest Reflections ("Opinings of a Night Owl") -- Amazing. Pathetic. But, I'm not surprised. I was brought up with this legalistic, patternistic teaching, and I literally studied my way out of it. It still shakes me up a bit to think that I was once there, yet it thrills me to know the grace of God in my life. Al, I admire you for your tenacity! Thirty years of beating your head against a legalistic wall. And yet, as a result, people are slowly opening their eyes, and it seems that at least some of those brethren who label themselves "legalistic patternists" are now demanding answers to the same questions you have been asking ... and getting the same non-response.
From a Minister in Indiana:
Brother Al, I applaud your faithfulness and perseverance. You have been engaging the patternists for 30 years, and now perhaps it is starting to have an impact. Most of us would have given up on trying to change their minds, but you stayed the task. Bravo! Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Florida:
Al, I just read your "Opinings of a Night Owl," and I believe I can answer the unanswered question, "Where is the pattern?" The pattern is deeply imbedded and concealed in the minds of legalists, and since they have a monopoly on truth, they intend to keep the pattern concealed so that they can continue to condemn to eternal punishment all who have not been privileged, as they have, to receive this special revelation. Thanks for your efforts, Al ... and God be thanked that some are beginning to "see the light."
From a Reader in Indiana:
Bro. Al, I really enjoyed this latest issue. Your intelligence makes you a real threat to the patternists. It is very encouraging, however, that some of them are beginning to THINK.
From an Elder in Arizona:
Al, The "pillars" of these legalists are: direct command, approved example, and necessary inference (CENI). And they get to decide which of these does what. Never mind that these cause the "burden" to be heavy and the "yoke" to be mighty uneasy, and that their adherents have a large knot in their belly all the time which in turn makes them angry about everything. I know this. I've been there and done that!
From a Reader in Montana:
Al, When Jesus put the question to the Pharisees, they said among themselves, "If we answer by saying this, He is going to say that," and so they passed on giving an answer altogether, knowing the bind it would put them in. That's how I see these patternists. They are trying to side step the issue altogether. That was a good article you wrote. Too bad they felt they had to take such extreme measures against you. Now you know how Jesus Christ must have felt when dealing with such extremists (not His feelings for Himself, but His feelings for those with whom He was dealing).
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, I think your recent article showed that there are some legalistic patternists out there who truly want to have some intellectual legitimacy. I will pray for these brothers and sisters. Also, Forthright magazine once again has proven itself to be one of the most poorly named publications ever to hit paper! It's a good thing Paul was not a legalistic patternist. I can just imagine the poor church in Ephesus trying to figure this thing out. "Paul, please explain to us this pattern of which you speak so that we might be saved." Paul: "Read about it for yourself in the New Testament. Oops, it hasn't been written yet. Well, I'll get back to you in 20 years or so. In the meantime, try to figure it out for yourselves!" Who knows, Brother Al, you just might be making some headway with this bunch!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Bro. Al, I went online to Forthright magazine and looked at it. I found it interesting, in looking at Richard Mansel's third article on the pattern, that in the readers' comments section several people stuck up for you! And then Kevin Cauley basically said you got what you deserved. I found that statement to be so unChristlike that I can only imagine the emails you must get from these people!! I really wish I could understand what motivates them to be so vicious. And they think they are serving God in this process?! I appreciate you, Al, and thank you for continuing to stand up for Truth and spread the Light. I do believe many people are listening, so be prepared (as I'm sure you are) for the evil one's continued assaults against you through these so-called "believers."
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Al, Have you ever heard of a web site called The Preacher's Files? Needless to say, our ultra-conservative, name-calling, watchdog brethren are alive and well on this site! So, I joined ... and got jumped on from the get go -- and I didn't even say anything controversial. I just chimed in on a study of Rom. 8:26 (which we had just covered in Sunday School this last week). And from there, I'm now neck-deep in a debate on the role of women. Anyway, I copied and posted your article titled "The Role of Women" (Issue #113), and it was like throwing chum into the ocean -- sharks came from everywhere asking who wrote that article. I told them, and there was like a collective moment of silence. Anyway, the moderators of that web site quickly removed the article -- I've yet to be given a reason why!!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I have just finished your "Opinings of a Night Owl" and want to congratulate you on a great issue of your Reflections. I am sorry that your service provider would even take someone like Matheny seriously. I can't imagine anything you write being of a nature to transgress the agreement one would have with a service provider. When I think of the filth that people devour with various Internet service providers, I am appalled that anyone would request termination of your service just because you asked them some questions! Al, may God continue to bless you for many years to come, and may the silver lining turn to gold very soon. Keep up the faith, brother!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, Great article! It's amazing how these legalists pretend to be the "Defenders of the Faith," and then run behind the bushes when confronted!!
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, That was another great article. The problem that I have seen over the past twenty years or so is that everyone has their own list of essentials. One group has 30 essentials, the next 31, the next 29, etc. Each feels he has the correct number and that all the rest are hell bound because their list is not exactly as his is. We have made a mockery of Christianity. The owner and writers of Forthright should be ashamed of themselves!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Good Evening, Al. That was a most remarkable Reflections! I didn't know about this ultra-conservative web publication called Forthright Magazine. How truly sad that there are so many who refuse to think for themselves. However, I am not surprised by these cowardly men. I have come to see them as wolves in sheep's clothing, and they must be challenged. You are doing this, Al, and I am so glad that others are beginning to do it too. Thank you for sharing this silver lining in a dark cloud. You are such an encouragement to me, Al. What a good brother you are, and, if you don't mind me saying so, I'm so proud of your courage!
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Brother Al, I think I understand where these brethren are coming from. They have staked both their faith and their claim to legitimacy as the one true NT church on the restoration of an outward form (or "pattern"). When the inadequacy of this is then shown, many do not have enough faith in the Lord to sustain them. When I began to awaken to the reality that my confidence in my salvation was primarily in myself for having the "correct" understanding on all the "issues," it was quite unsettling. Thinking is not always an easy thing to do, and sometimes it is a very lonely thing to do, but it is far more honest than blindly and blandly following those few who bellow the loudest about their "pattern," and how we had better follow it (them) if we want to go to heaven. I pray that those who are questioning the gurus of patternism will realize that Jesus is the pattern.
From a Minister in Oregon:
Great article, Al. I find it really interesting that no one would answer the question! It's pathetic that the response you get for "What is the pattern?" is: "Read the New Testament." If you give the NT to ten different people, you will get ten different lists. It becomes ridiculous. Then these ultra-legalistic people will tell you that your list is WRONG. Well, aren't they the ones who said to read the NT and figure it out for yourself? What were they expecting?
From a Minister in Texas:
Bro. Al, I have commented to you on a few occasions. My wife and I always read and profit by your writings. I am not surprised that you got the "heave ho" from the radical brothers. They are not interested in hearing any opposing points of view. They might have to think, and that, of course, could lead to change, and that would be disastrous!! Although I was reared and remained in the "mainstream" Churches of Christ, I have been preaching for the past eight years in a Non-Class Church of Christ. I find the more modern NBC (non-Bible class) congregations (for the most part) to be more open-minded than the average "mainstream" congregations, and thinking has been the culprit that led to this blessed openness. I have truly been blessed to be at --------- Church of Christ, and I pray God will bless me with many more years to serve here (I have now been preaching for 49 years).
From a Minister in South Carolina:
Dear Bro. Al, I just read your article. Very good. You express thoughts that I mostly concur with. Am I a patternist? I suppose so. I do see patterns in the NT. But I always want to be careful not to create my own patterns and teach them as if they are from God. Am I a legalistic patternist? I don't think so. I realize and teach emphatically that I'm going to heaven not because I have "aced the test," dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's, but I'm going to heaven because Jesus Christ died for me and ever lives to make intercession for me. Thank you for your study and for your service to the Lord and His cause.
From a Youth Minister in Oklahoma:
Al, I enjoyed this last article. Mostly because it reminds me of me. I grew up in an ultra-conservative church. About the age of eight I started to see holes in the theology of many of those brethren, and I have yet to understand how they can believe something that just doesn't make sense. I find it more and more difficult to have any sympathy for the nonsensical legalists. The more I study, the simpler it all seems to me: Jesus, Jesus, JESUS. It's not about carpet, pews, church vans, orphanages, projectors, song books, classes, kitchens, etc. It's about Jesus. By the way, after trying to get a response from Richard Mansel on Forthright's web site, they attacked and tried to make me look like an uneducated heathen. After a long tirade against me, they have removed my ability to post any longer to their web site ... effectively getting in the last word. And, as part of that last word, they dragged your name through the dirt. So, I'm sorry that my thoughts have brought unprovoked criticism onto you. May God grant me the wisdom and patience to love them more, teach them more, understand them more ... and to be frustrated with them less. Al, thank you for continually putting your thoughts and opinions out there for us to consider. May God continue to bless your ministry, your work, your heart, and your family. May your words continue to enlighten and uplift the brothers and sisters of Christ our Lord!
From a Minister/Author in Mississippi:
Brother Al, Good stuff on the "opinings" about patternism. Al, I'm not sure these guys understand the difference between believing that the New Testament is an objective standard of truth, and their finely tuned list of particular doctrines that one must accept in order to be considered faithful. Somewhere there is a breakdown in conceptualizing the issues. This discussion reminds me of counseling sessions I've had with people. They have a problem; very often it is with a spouse or some other person. They will make broad, sweeping charges that the other person is "trying to control me," or some other negative action. But, when you ask them to be specific, many of them can't tell you. Those who can't give specifics sometimes have a problem with their own perception of reality. My point is, I agree with you on the need to lay out the "pattern," if there is one. It just won't work to say, "It's in the Bible." I'm fairly sure that most of us accept and believe the Bible as truth and our standard. Patternists, however, seem to have a far more detailed and specific concept of what that pattern is. One reason I think there is so much hesitation on their part to lay out their concept of the "pattern" is that they know it will be picked apart, and that they won't even get a consensus from other patternists. The problem here is their very selective (though generally unwritten and unofficial) emphasis on getting things right. This is at the heart of the problem. Salvation is simply not a matter of "getting it right." If it were, the Law of Moses would have been sufficient. Salvation is a matter of people who haven't been right, who aren't right now, and who won't be right, getting right with God through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That never eases the need for us to keep learning and yielding ourselves to God's will, but it does relieve us from the need to keep pointing to ourselves and essentially shouting to God, "See how well I've done in getting it right?!" It just seems to me we've got a greater "Galatian" problem than anyone wants to admit to having.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Brother Al, I was raised in what you would call "the dark cloud of legalistic patternism." I have been in this present congregation since the age of seven, and it has had a very political, sectarian history, fueled for years by an annual lectureship, close association with Memphis School of Preaching, and harsh sectarian men in leadership positions. I have restudied all this from the ground up, and have come to realize how condemning I had become over "issues" I had no Scriptural authority to condemn. It is a sad realization to make, but I thank God for His providence that I have been enlightened. I recently came across your web site, and your article "Opinings of a Night Owl" really piqued my interest. I certainly understand your viewpoint on the dangers of patternism and its role in splintering the church as we know it. I think your requests over the years to be shown "the pattern" are perfectly legitimate.
From a Reader in Washington:
Al, I marvel at how prolific you are in your writing, as I know you do a good many other things as well. It is obvious God is working through you to help enlighten and inform those who want to learn and to challenge those who are caught up in self-righteousness. IF faithfulness, fellowship and salvation depend on compliance with some pattern, then the person making that assertion is indeed obligated to provide, in exacting detail, the specifics of that pattern for all of the rest of us. I am writing to encourage you to keep on with your prodding. It is obvious you do it with sincerity and love for lost souls in your heart, which makes you very effective. I am saddened to say that my husband and I were also caught up in this legalistic thinking for many years. I can recall several different people who came into our lives challenging our thinking. Of course, it made me angry in the beginning, and I just wished they would go away. After all, it is so comforting when you think you have all the answers. However, their challenges of our thinking was the best thing that has ever happened to us. We now have turned away from legalism and enjoy the freedom that was intended for us by Jesus. "And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Al, please continue to teach and challenge, as God has given you great opportunity to do this. I am confident that God is blessing your efforts possibly even more than you know. I pray He will bless you with good health for many years, as your ministry is needed, and I know of none other that is as effective!!
From a Minister in Kansas:
Dear Brother Al, One Cup man here! That was a great job on Issue #238. I stand amazed at the actions of some members of the church. If a pattern exists that will bring all of us together, then WHY won't these brethren provide it?! Many of the One Cup brethren are sick and tired of the "official/unofficial" leaders of the Old Paths Advocate group trying to control the One Cup congregations. A movement in our group has been underway for some time now to restore congregational autonomy to every local congregation. Many have given lip-service to this fundamental teaching, yet, when brethren proclaim it, pressure is applied by the preaching fraternity in this group --- "We won't come there anymore; none of our preachers will hold a meeting for you anymore; your congregation's name and address will be removed from our brotherhood directory; etc." One Cup brethren, it is time to throw off the shackles and take a stand for autonomy of the local church! Each congregation needs to be free to decide for itself how it will carry out the Lord's will. We can have unity even though we disagree on some teachings found in the NT. How? By simply remembering that ALL who have obeyed the Gospel are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Keep up the good work, Al.
From a New Reader in Washington:
Al, Just found your writings, and am glad I did; I have enjoyed them very much. I hope you and the family are well, and I look forward to your continued ministry.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Al, Your articles continue to be a source of encouragement. It appears that some in the ultra-conservative sect are now seeing a glimmer of light due to your work. Keep it up!!
From a Reader in Nevada:
Good morning, brother Al. I don't remember whether or not I have ever shared with you the results of a year-long Sunday AM class we had here a couple of years ago. The object of the class was to determine the proper answer to "What must I do to be saved?" We went through the entire NT looking for terms describing a proper relationship with God. Then we looked for those passages that directly connected those terms with some human response that would result in that salvation. I have attached the result of our study. Thought you might be interested.
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