by Al Maxey

Issue #241 ------- March 25, 2006
Witnesses are weighed not counted.
Ancient Latin Saying

A Cloud of Witnesses
An Analysis of Hebrews 12:1

The Spirit-inspired writer of the epistle known unto us as "Hebrews" penned the following powerful truth: "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls" (Hebrews 12:1-3, NKJV). This great biblical scholar and writer (who I believe could very well have been Apollos -- see: Reflections #128) has, in these few words, provided one of the most encouraging exhortations in all of Scripture. Life can be extremely grueling; in some ways like unto the agonizing struggle experienced by runners in the Olympic games. However, to those who run with endurance, keeping their eyes on the prize, there is great reward.

There were two primary presences upon whom the runner was to remain focused: Jesus and a great cloud of witnesses. It is the second group upon whom we shall concentrate our attention during the course of this present reflection. There has been considerable speculation over the centuries, as one might well imagine, concerning the identity of this "great cloud of witnesses" and the nature of their role in the race of the Christian runner. Are they spectators of this race, looking on from the upper tiers of some celestial coliseum? Departed souls of saints who are allowed for some reason to watch our struggles here below? Is our departed grandmother cheering us on from the great beyond? Is Abraham? Paul? Or, is this host of witnesses, whoever they may be, not even personally aware of our struggle? Is their "witness" of a different nature? In either case, in what possible way do they aid us in our quest for the heavenly prize? These are questions that have perplexed biblical students and scholars for centuries and have generated no small amount of heated debate.

In this study we shall note the two primary interpretations as to the identity and purpose of this "cloud of witnesses." Prior to doing so, however, it would be beneficial to examine a couple of peripheral aspects of the phrase in question. First, we should point out that this group of witnesses is characterized as a "cloud." This is not the normal word used in Scripture for a cloud (which is the Greek word nephele). Instead, the word nephos is employed, and this word appears only here in the entire New Testament writings! "Nephos is a mass of cloud that covers the heavens and differs from nephele, a detached, single cloud. The figure is the grander because the former word is used" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 423). In this way this "cloud mass" is said to "surround" us, or "encompass" us (Heb. 12:1), since it fills the sky from one end to the other. Dr. Kenneth Wuest agrees with this distinction between the words -- "The word 'cloud' here is not nephele, which is a detached and sharply outlined cloud, but nephos, a great mass of cloud covering the entire visible space of the heavens" (Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2 -- Hebrews, p. 212). The Expositor's Bible Commentary concurs (vol. 12, p. 133). This figure is made all the grander by the use of the Greek word tosoutos, which is a far more demonstrative form of the word tosos, meaning "so great, so many, so long." Thus, tremendous emphasis is placed upon the magnitude and scope of this cloud mass.

It was not uncommon in the literature of these ancient peoples to characterize a vast throng of people or things as a "great cloud." As a matter of fact, "both the Greeks and Latins frequently used the term 'cloud' to express a great number of persons or things" (Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 776). The word "is a classical metaphor used for a multitude" (Don Earl Boatman, Helps From Hebrews, p. 390). Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his above referenced Word Studies, writes, "The use of 'cloud' for a mass of living beings is familiar in poetry. Homer speaks of 'a cloud of footmen, a cloud of Trojans.' Themistocles, addressing the Athenians, says of the host of Xerxes, 'we have had the fortune to save both ourselves and Greece by repelling so great a cloud of men'" (p. 212). Ezekiel 38:9,16 employs the figure of a cloud, which will "cover the land," to portray the enemy, consisting of many troops, which will come against God's rebellious, sinful people.

Witnesses of Us (Spectators)

The real question before us, however, is -- just who are these "witnesses" who surround us? And additionally: what is their purpose? In what way do they assist us in our effort to "run with endurance the race that is set before us" in this life? Is their assistance, if indeed they do assist us, passive in nature, or active? Although there have been many attempts over the years to answer these questions, there are two conclusions that overshadow the rest. The first is that this vast multitude are witnesses of our daily struggles to live for Jesus. In a word, they are spectators; assembled in a vast celestial coliseum observing our race for the finish line, and cheering us on. In this theory, as well as the next, the vast host of "witnesses" consist of the deceased. These are the "spirits of those who have gone on before us," and they are occupying themselves with observing us here below.

The Pulpit Commentary suggests "we are to think of them as hovering over us in the heavens. They circle and crowd around us, tier upon tier, on both sides of the race-course. On the one side is the gallery of the saints before the Flood, that of the Hebrew Pilgrim Fathers, of the heroes of the Exodus, of the judges, and of the prophets; while on the other side is the gallery of the apostles, that of the Christian confessors and martyrs, of the missionaries of the Church, and of our own departed friends who have gone to glory. These spectators are a 'great cloud'" (vol. 21, p. 364). Here we see the word "spectator" actually employed. The dead are spectating; they watch us from above; they "witness" our struggle here below. Such noted biblical scholars as "Vincent and Alford see these saints looking down from heaven observing the lives of those on earth" (Dr. Kenneth Wuest, p. 213).

Dr. Wuest, however, states: "I cannot bring myself to go that far" (ibid). I completely concur. Those of you who know my views regarding the nature of man, and the fate of the deceased between death and resurrection, know that I am convicted the dead know nothing -- indeed, they are dead, not alive, and shall remain so until called forth from the dust of the ground. There are no "souls" or "spirits" hovering about cheering us on. [A great many of my earlier Reflections articles deal with this subject, and for those readers interested in taking the time to examine them, they are Issues 28, 28a, 32, 41, 44, 45, 46, 51, 62, 68, 74, 79, 80, 83, 152. For additional insight, I would also refer those readers who might be interested to the Maxey-Thrasher Debate, during which this issue is discussed in quite some depth.] The wise King Solomon wrote, "The dead know nothing ... never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun" (Eccl. 9:5-6). Thus, I completely reject this interpretation of Hebrews 12:1. It is entirely contrary to my understanding of the biblical depiction of the state of the dead. If my view of the nature of man and the state of the dead is correct (and I believe, after many, many years of study on this subject, that it is), then the above theory regarding the "witnesses" is not correct.

But, there is far more evidence arrayed against this first interpretation than just the fruit of my own personal study (and the study of others of like persuasion) regarding the nature of man and the state of the dead. We must also consider that the Greek word martus is never used with reference to a "spectator." The Greek word for "spectator" is theates. "The original word (martus) never means merely a spectator" (Dr. Robert Milligan, Commentary on The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 440). "It is doubtful whether it ever means simply 'a spectator'" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 133). Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his classic Word Studies from the Greek NT, notes that this "word does not include in its meaning the idea of a person looking at something" (p. 213), although some argue that this significance could perhaps be argued from Paul's statement in 1 Tim. 6:12 ("you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses"). Were these people of whom Paul spoke witnesses to Timothy's confession, or were they witnesses (testifiers) of the Word who were merely present at his confession? It could be argued either way. Nevertheless, most biblical scholars reject the idea that the term "witnesses," especially as used in the Hebrews 12:1 passage, suggests the dead are in any way celestial spectators.

Dr. F.F. Bruce, a well-respected biblical scholar and author, wrote, "In what sense are they 'witnesses'? Not, probably, in the sense of spectators, watching their successors as they in their turn run the race for which they have entered" (The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 346). Dr. Kenneth Wuest regards the view that these witnesses are "spectators looking at this earthly scene from heaven" as an incorrect interpretation of the passage (Word Studies, p. 213). R.C.H. Lenski makes the following observation: "It is very dramatic to make these 'witnesses' spectators who are lining the ramparts of heaven, leaning over to watch us in the running of the race like the crowds in a great stadium who are watching the athletic events. The unsatisfactory feature about this idea is its spiritualistic touch: the spirits of the dead are still hovering over and around us. The souls of the saints are at rest, they are no longer concerned about the trials that occur on earth" (Interpretation of Hebrews, p. 424).

Witnesses to Us (Standards)

As noted above, I reject completely the first interpretation. It is my studied conviction that it has absolutely no basis in biblical fact. The view most scholars feel to be the correct one, and I concur, is that these "witnesses" are those who witness, or testify, to us, rather than simply being spectators of us. In other words, they have something to say to us; some truth or truths to present to our view and for our consideration as we strive to complete the race set before us. What do they testify to us? How do they testify to us? These are the questions that must be answered. To respond to the second question -- they testify by their lives. As we consider their journey of faith, as we view their witness of victorious living, they speak to us! The answer to the first question is -- FAITH is the victory!

In Hebrews 13:7, speaking of spiritual leaders whom most interpreters believe to be deceased at the time of the writing of Hebrews, the inspired writer says, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith." These departed leaders witness (testify) to us by their lives, and their testimony is to the eternal worth of faith. Therefore, take that testimony of their lives and imitate it. In other words, live by faith just as they did. In Hebrews 12:3 we are told to "consider" Jesus as we strive to run with endurance the race set before us. The whole contextual theme is that as we journey through life we have a vast cloud of testifiers (Jesus being chief among them) as to how to successfully reach the finish line and receive the victor's crown. It is by an active, obedient, demonstrative FAITH.

Who are those in this great cloud of witnesses? I think the clue, at least in part, is to be found in the word "Therefore" --- "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us ... run with endurance" (Heb. 12:1). A professor once told us, "Whenever you see the word 'therefore' in the text, pause to determine what it is there for." This word tends to link what is about to be said with what has previously been said. Who are to be found in this great cloud? I think the immediate and obvious answer is: that galaxy of godly men and women in Hebrews 11. The writer has gone to great lengths to present to our view a vast cloud of witnesses, or testifiers, to the eternal worth of a life of faith. That is the whole focus of Hebrews 11. These worthies, in a host of challenging circumstances, as they themselves ran the race set before them, testify that the victory CAN be won, and that it is won by FAITH. It is they (and others like them, past, present and future) who witness to us by the successful outcome of their lives that victory is assured for the man, woman and child who lives by faith.

Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann describes the "great cloud" in the following dramatic way: "These are shining examples which envelop us like a bright cloud. It is a vast multitude of witnesses that have testified to the worth of faith, and wherever we may turn, we find their encouraging example. And just as they pursued their course unflinchingly and persistently till they reached their goal, so we also should be found running forward toward the heavenly object of our striving with steadfast, courageous patience" (Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 2, p. 487). Dr. Kenneth Wuest writes, "The heroes of faith of 11:4-40 are the cloud of witnesses, testifying to the efficacy of the faith way of salvation and victory" (Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 213). Dr. F. F. Bruce says that "by their loyalty and endurance they have borne witness to the possibilities of the life of faith" (The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 346). "There they are, then, and with their record to encourage us let us in our turn cultivate endurance like theirs as we run 'the race that is set before us'" (ibid, p. 347).

The message of the writer of Hebrews to those still running life's grueling race, and who are in need of encouragement of spirit and endurance of faith, is this: consider the victorious outcome of those who have gone before you -- it is a countless host -- and take heart; they finished the course successfully ... so can you. How? The same way they did -- by faith. This is one reason it is so critical that we never discount the lives and the histories of those who have gone before us. They are there for our learning, our warning, and our encouragement. "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction" (1 Cor. 10:11; see also vs. 6). A biblical scholar and historian by the name of Dr. Bob Burrelli made this critical observation, "Recently there has been, on the part of the church growth movement, a decisive move away from all that is past toward everything new and innovative. Out with the old and in with the new is the motto. Such a move comes dangerously close to disconnecting believers from their Christian heritage. Let's be convinced that there is much in the past that has been recorded for our benefit. Let us not abandon our legacy handed down to us by the faithful and stained in the blood of martyrs. For our sake, and the sake of the next generation, let us learn from it, be encouraged by it, and as living stones continue to build upon it with the same costly material with which it was laid." I believe this to be fabulous advice.

Bro. Patrick D. Odum, in an article on Heartlight (a magazine produced by several congregations in Abilene, TX) titled Cloud of Witnesses, gave this sobering warning: "We'd best not lose our sense of history. We must never forget the great cloud of witnesses who have walked the faith before us and still have much to say about walking it today." Notice a few other comments in this article by Bro. Odum --- "To cut ourselves off from those who have come before us in the faith is to leave ourselves without their example, without benefit of their experience, and without their accumulated wisdom." "A sense of history. That's what God's people need. We need to see the 'great cloud of witnesses' that surrounds us because we need to know that we're part of something bigger than ourselves. ... Just as we're part of something that began long before we were born, they are a part of something that will go on long after they have died. ... Our lives intersect with the lives of faithful people who have gone before because we're all part of the same overarching story -- the story of God's redemption of His creation through Jesus." "We need that sense of history to know that we aren't alone, that others have lived through trouble and pain and persecution and death with faith and integrity. And that if they could, we can too!"

Bro. Raymond Elliott, a former elder and minister for the Prattville Church of Christ, in Prattville, Alabama, recently wrote an article titled I Couldn't Care Less. He begins with the following: "While in a conversation with a brother in Christ the subject of pioneer gospel preachers was discussed. This brother was hypercritical of a detailed study of the lives of such men as Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, John Smith and others. This brother exclaimed, 'I couldn't care less what Raccoon John Smith did.' To that I replied, 'You probably don't care for the history of the Restoration Movement.' He agreed with my assertion. Since the time of our discussion, I have pondered over the statement, 'I couldn't care less,' with reference to our rich heritage, religiously speaking. In making such a statement, this brother exemplified an attitude that is so prevalent among many members of the church today." Bro. Elliott further observes: "There is a lack of gratitude for those who have gone before us. Even in secular history, we have learned to appreciate such men as George Washington, Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln and scores of others who were instrumental in the forming of our nation. Should we think less of our forefathers who sacrificed for the cause of Christ? Certainly we should be thankful for our laws that provide for us liberties and freedoms in our great country. More than these, we should be eager to learn of those men and women who gave of themselves in order that we might learn of the freedom that is in Christ Jesus. Such awareness of the pioneer preachers can motivate us to be more faithful to our Lord."

Although Bro. Elliott and I differ on a number of points theologically (including some he made in the above mentioned article), I am nevertheless in complete agreement with his thoughts regarding the failing of some among us to give weight to those witnesses of faith who have preceded us. There is much to gain from the testimony of their lives, whether it be warning or encouragement. How empty are the lives of those devoid of a sense of history, especially when it pertains to their own heritage and their place within it. The Hebrew writer encourages those running the race set before them to carefully consider the Faithful and True One (Jesus Christ), as well as those who have been faithful and true in their walk with God. By being ever cognizant of this great cloud of witnesses we shall gain insight and inspiration to finish the course by faith, just as they did.

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in Finland:

I'm studying theology here in Finland. Right now I'm studying Haggai -- the prophet of the Old Testament. So, I found your research into The Minor Prophets very interesting teaching about the Bible. So, could you send me these other teachings -- Reflections -- also in the future? God bless you and give you all kinds of success and progress in all of your ways!

From a Reader in Michigan:

Brother Al, I want to thank you for your Reflections, which I read every week. In my spare time I am also going through your archives and reading your past writings. During a recent Internet search I found the book According To The Pattern by W. Carl Ketcherside. I was expecting to find something similar to the writings of Forthright Magazine. But, to my great surprise, I found a pioneer in the brotherhood who rejected the legalistic, patternistic philosophy that is so destructive in many congregations today. The humility and eloquence with which this man speaks from his heart touched me so much that I could not stop reading. Although he writes of a different generation, and of some different divisions, his message is still relevant to us today. I think that one can't help but see W. Carl Ketcherside as a pioneer in the rejection of the legalistic, patternistic philosophy. Keep up the good work, Al, and be thankful for those who went before you!

From a Reader in Florida:

Al, I have been as ultra-conservative as you can get, but I am now coming out of that legalistic, patternistic thinking, which I had always believed, but never understood. This made a very negative impact on my evangelizing, because I was scared to bring people to the "one true church" (notice that my focus was not on bringing people to Jesus Christ, but to our church) because I just couldn't defend all that I believed. I'm broken-hearted over the fact that I have wasted twenty-five years (I'm now forty-two) of my Christian life.

From a New Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Maxey, Please put me on your mailing list. I was first introduced to your thoughts just a couple of weeks ago in your disputation with brother Mansel (Issue #238). Although I know this brother, I found it interesting how your questions were "handled" by him. In all honesty, I would not want to venture out in giving the official list of "essentials" in the pattern. I believe that anyone who would dare to venture into providing such a list would have great difficulty biblically explaining why some items are "essentials," while other things, which are also obviously in (or not in) the Book, are "non-essentials." I'm what you would consider a strict patternist, however I lament the gross division among the Lord's church. I find that those among the radical right are harsh, unfair and unreasonable. I also believe that those among the conservatives who are balanced (where I consider myself to be) strive to be fair and gracious, yet we are manifestly inconsistent. These inconsistencies have compelled me to search for answers. Brother Maxey, I am not where you are; however, I do see some problems with where I am. I want answers, answers which are biblical, and which make unity among the Scripturally immersed something which is truly attainable. I find we give emphatic lip service to unity, but have failed miserably in acquiring it. I suspect you'll be hearing more from me!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, I just want to let you know how much I enjoy your Reflections. I too was overwhelmed by Rick Atchley's sermon "Learning Division." I have also ordered a DVD from Richland Hills to give to my preacher. May God continue to bless you in your endeavors to lessen the impact of legalistic patternism upon the church. I just can't believe their ideas are what our God intended!

From a Reader in Michigan:

Al, Thank God for all you do. You've been a tremendous help to me, and also to countless others!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, "Gender Regeneration" was another great article! Thanks. Did you know there is actually a movement among some to stop women from singing in the assembly, since Paul spoke of us "speaking" and "teaching" via our singing? Both the teaching and the speaking, they believe, are in conflict with Paul's statements in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:12. This has also led them to put a stop to a woman making the "good confession" within the assembly, since she speaks when she does!! Can't have that. I suppose they have to go out into the lobby, so as to get out of the "worship assembly," in order to take her confession!! There are others who have torn out all the songs in the hymnals where women take the vocal lead. Why? Because for the women to sing, while the men do not, "usurps authority over the man!" Such legalism has left a bitter taste in the mouths of those who are seeking Truth.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Al, I am the minister for a small congregation in Mississippi, and I just wanted you to know that your articles are a "summer breeze" in "the heat of the night." Some weeks they are the only "reasoned dialogue" I am able to enjoy. It's refreshing to realize that I'm not alone on the "slippery slope" toward Scripturalness that many refer to as Liberalism. I pray God will bless your ministry, especially your writing ministry, which you are willing to share with so many!

From a New Reader in (Unknown):

Hello! A friend of mine recently sent me a small article from your Reflections on "The Missional Church" which I read with much interest, and which really made me think. Furthermore, I really appreciated the comments contained beneath the article from other Christians. I would very much like to receive future articles. Would you please add my name to your distribution list? Thank you!!

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

Al, your words in "The Missional Church" are right on! More and more of our restoration heritage churches are beginning to perceive this missional priority and move toward it. Sadly, though, many are not, and may never do so. They are content to "do church," and the leaders of those churches live in so much fear of NOT "doing church" right that they never come to an understanding of the real purpose of our co-mission with Jesus. Church "leaders" who are content to steer their flock in a way that only, or even primarily, focuses on internal ministry will end up blindly "leading" their own churches into Barna's book of statistics. What is the future of the church? Well, it wouldn't surprise me if it eventually survived in two polarized venues: the 20,000 seat arena and the living room! Love ya, man!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

"The Missional Church" was a powerful article, brother! It humbled me! God help us who sit on the sidelines and simply throw a few bucks into a plate on Sunday and convince ourselves that we are doing missions. God help us! I really enjoyed reading the comments from other readers this week -- I especially liked the comment from the student at Lipscomb. Oh, I have also ordered the DVD of Rick Atchley's sermon -- can't wait to get it!

From a Reader in Oregon:

Al, "The Missional Church" was another great article. It's one of those that cause some inner reflection, exposing an area of much needed self-improvement. Thanks for fanning the flame!

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Dear Mr. Maxey, I am so grateful to you for this wonderful article on the missional church. These are some of the things that have been on my heart for quite some time. May our God bless you in continuing your ministry of trying to awaken the people of God.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, I had to laugh at that guy who visited you at the congregation where you preached in Honolulu, and who was satisfied that you were a "KJV Church." I wasn't that easy!! Remember?! I walked out of your service the Sunday I visited there in Hawaii. Al, your article on the missional church is one of the most challenging I have read. I know that what you are saying is absolutely correct. But, how do we do it? Do we just approach those "righteous people" who are in the other churches? This seems to be the approach we most generally choose to take. I have found that approach to be most unsuccessful. Or, as you indicate, do we approach those living in sin and associate with them? Do we go to the bars, the strip clubs, the casinos, the divorce courts, the prisons, and so on? I'm not sure I am capable of doing that. Can you elaborate?

From a Reader in Ohio:

Wow, Al. "The Missional Church" was another amazing article from you, and it pretty much describes the congregation I have found myself part of these past three years! I believe if we as followers of Christ would all become more mission-minded, and search for the purpose that we were intended to live out, we would have less divisions today in our heritage (the Churches of Christ). The main reason for this is that we would be so busy fulfilling our mission that we would have no time to bicker over things that really aren't important to our relationship with our Lord and Savior. Your timing with this article was great, as our preacher, for several weeks now, has been guiding us all in this same thinking! I plan on sharing this issue of your Reflections with many! Thank you, Bro. Al, for using your mission and purpose with all of us on the Internet, and wherever else you may be sharing your God-given abilities.

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Bro. Al, you have written many good Reflections, but "The Missional Church" is one of your best. Your discussion about the difference between "mission-minded" churches and "missional" churches made me think of a comment made by Rubel Shelly. He said that many times churches spend so much on foreign missions because it makes us feel better about not doing missions in our own backyard. We need to become more missional as a church. We need to live with a sense of purpose. A great book on this subject is "The Shaping of Things to Come."

From a Prison Minister in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, The Reflections article you wrote on missional churches was excellent. It contained three words that I have been using for several months now, and have been trying to provoke our leaders to put into practice. The words Focus, Purpose and Mission just seem to be too much for them to grasp, however. Unless we become focused with a purpose to accomplish a mission we will continue to maintain the status quo, and we will soon become totally without influence for anything good in our communities. Thanks again, Al, for the good article.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Thanks, Al, for another powerful Reflections ("The Missional Church"). Oh, what a gift you have for getting to the point in such a loving way! Your Reflections are such a blessing to this 68-year-old woman who has questioned silently for many years! I do hope to live long enough to see the harvest of your gift!

From a Reader in Washington:

Al, I really enjoyed reading this Reflections on the missional church. I attended a meeting yesterday at the Northwest Church in Seattle. Well over 100 ladies were present to hear a lesson on "Freely You Have Received -- Freely Give." The message was powerful and motivating, and was based on Matthew 10:9. It was a spiritually uplifting day for all who attended. I just thought you would like to know that here is a congregation that seems to be teaching and practicing exactly what you wrote about. I told several of the ladies there about your web site, and gave them your web address, so they too can read your Reflections. You will also be pleased to know that someone sent your article on the missional church to our minister. His sermon today was about the things which you wrote about in that article. In fact, he mentioned your name and told the congregation about your Reflections article. Tonight, at our Home Group my husband read aloud to our group from your article. We are giving all the people in our Home Group the address to your web site. Some already receive your Reflections and are being blessed by them. Why am I writing these things to you? To let you know that your work is deeply appreciated by many. Keep on keeping on, brother Al.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, Thank you! You have inspired me to begin writing. I'm now writing a column called "Bible Talk" for a new multi-county newspaper here. I'm using some ideas from your Reflections. I'm going to the Tulsa Workshop today, and am anxious to hear a lecture by Dr. Milton Jones titled "The Northwest Story." It's about a Church of Christ and a Christian Church who have united. It should be interesting. Have a great day, and may God bless your endeavors.

From an Elder in South Carolina:

Brother Al, I received the Rick Atchley DVD yesterday. It is tremendous. I have read as much as I could find about the Restoration Movement, and although Rick did not say it directly, attitudes toward slavery probably contributed to the split. I am blessed to be in a diverse congregation here in South Carolina, about 40% black, with one black elder among the three. Most local congregations here are still considered black or white. I think that the emergence of diverse congregations could be a sign of healing, a sign that we are moving more toward true unity. We also have several who worship with us who have roots in the Christian Church, having moved in from out of state. Al, this unity can really work, if we can agree on some essentials, and then let the local elderships determine what is practiced in areas of opinion that would affect everyone. As long as we are submissive to one another, and particularly to Christ, with no personal agendas that would disrupt the fellowship, I think God will bless us. Interestingly, our congregation desires to fellowship all other local congregations, but some of the other churches will not fellowship each other, or us, because of past history concerning splits over opinion which became "law." So sad.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Dear brother, Thank you for the thought and effort you put into your amazingly helpful Reflections articles. It would be hard to express just how much they have meant to me since I first learned of them through Edward Fudge's GracEmails. For a time I thought that I was very much alone as I tried to reconcile my traditional Church of Christ upbringing with what I was seeing as I studied the Scriptures. For several years it was a "pretty rough patch" for me. Your weekly Reflections, however, and the readers' comments, have really been an answer to prayer. I have recommended your Reflections to a number of people, and I am convinced that they are doing great good. By the way, I also am a Vietnam veteran, and I retired from the Air Force some 33 years ago. I have a son-in-law whose parents have lived in Cortez, Colorado for many, many years, and, of course, they know your parents.

From a Reader in Texas:
[The following is an email this brother sent
to all those people on his personal mailing list.]

I don't ever do this, but I am going to call your attention to a sermon that I know is going to be of historic and great spiritual value to the Body of Christ. It is one you have to hear and see to appreciate, so here's how to do it. Go to the following URL: ... click on "sermons online" from the menu on the left side of the page. Find the one for March 1, 2006 -- "Learning Division" -- and click on the video version. It is a 46 minute sermon, so be sure you have time to watch and listen to every word and catch every gesture. Expand the picture to fit your screen and invite as many people as you can. If you agree that this is a work of great importance, encourage your email audience to do the same. I am 77-years-old, raised in the Baptist faith group, member of the Church of Christ since 1949, and I believe this is the most powerful sermon I have ever witnessed, and certainly one I never expected to hear in a Church of Christ.

From a Reader in (Unknown):

Bro. Maxey, I ordered and received the DVD from Rick Atchley. Wow!! I don't know what to do right now, except to study and pray. As I believe you know, I come from the non-institutional, non-instrumental, yet located preacher, Bible class, multiple cup brand of the Churches of Christ. We actually consider "Forthright" to be a liberal publication. Al, this is a trying time for me right now. I need your prayers!

From a Noted Author in Alabama:

Al, I received a request from a brother in Nigeria for your web site address. He wishes you to add him to your informative emails. I believe you are doing more good than anyone that I know of in reaching out to Church of Christ folks. Your essays are always timely and to the point. I know that God is using you in a mighty way to bring about unity among His people. Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, as you know, I have a very high respect for your ability to study a subject from both sides and come to an honest and thoughtful conclusion, even when we don't agree (which is rare!). I realize it is extremely difficult to put aside the traditional beliefs of 1700 years. Allowing females to again be able to baptize, especially in the "worship service," is a big step toward a better understanding and practice relating to gender issues in the Churches of Christ. Unfortunately, I believe for 99% of our present congregations, this would result in problems because of the way we have traditionally viewed gender from our exclusive male-control position, which is something we can thank the early Roman and Greek Christian "Fathers" for, in my opinion. Just think, we can't even seem to be able to let a woman help serve on the Communion table, an obvious position of serving and not leading, even if she says nothing while standing there or walking down the aisles with the trays. Again, Al, thank you for your open-minded and honest studies of biblical subjects. They are a breath of fresh air that I wait for each week with anticipation of some good, thought-provoking reading!

From a Minister in Arizona:

Al, Regarding your piece about the missional church, I find it interesting that some folks are so taken by the latest theological fads and feel driven to adopt them. Over the years I recall the "Redemptive Church," the "Broken Church," the "Suffering Church," the "Awakening Church," and the "Emergent Church." Strange how these fads come and go. Some great name in the world of theology dreams up a new cognomen for a new concept and our theologians rush to adopt it. Such is but a more sophisticated version of "bus ministry," or "day care ministry," or "counseling ministry."

From a Doctor in Alabama:

Al, The Rick Atchley sermon was every bit as wonderful as you said it would be. Thank you for directing me to the Richland Hills Church of Christ web site. I have downloaded the audio recordings of several of Rick Atchley's sermons over the past week, and have been listening to them on a daily basis. He has to be the best pulpit preacher I've ever heard! (Though, if you ever decide to post recordings of your own sermons online, I might be tempted to revise that last comment.) Like your articles, Rick's sermons have an amazing ability to hold my attention, stimulate my thinking, touch my heart, step on my toes, and make me want to be a better follower of Christ; and they manage to do so without insulting my intelligence, disrespecting my doctrinal viewpoints, or making me feel like I'm being unfairly judged. May God raise up more preachers like Al Maxey and Rick Atchley! I want to thank you for all that you have done over the years to help those trapped in legalism to realize the absurdity of the legalistic mindset; and to help them find their way out of bondage into freedom. I hope you and Shelly are well. Thanks again for all that you have done for me, and for the cause of Christ. Keep sowing the good seed!

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