Issue #244 -------
April 12, 2006
As far as we can discern, the sole
purpose of human existence is to kindle
a light in the darkness of mere being.
Carl G. Jung (1875-1961)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Vision. Some have defined this as "contemplative foresight; keen farsightedness; breadth of view; penetrating insightfulness." It is a perceptive sense of where one is headed and why, and even some sense of when and how one intends to get there. If the people of God are lacking in this quality, they tend to wander without aim, without direction, without purpose. Indeed, without vision a people can easily devolve into a state of aimless anarchy. "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained" (Prov. 29:18). The KJV states it even more harshly -- "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
In the September, 1999 issue of Rocky Mountain Christian, Polly Cline, a sister in Christ in Georgia, wrote the following in an article titled "A Sense of Purpose" --- "We can never outlive our Purpose. It is so extraordinary as to demand all of who we are. It is as big as God Himself. And it is He who has so ordered our life as to become One with His Life, and, by that union, to become a part of the Eternal Purpose of God" (p. 10). Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), in his second inaugural address, stated, "The Almighty has His own purposes." Our God does nothing aimlessly. His every action, reaction and interaction has eternal purpose. Our life's goal, as His special creation, as His called forth people in Christ Jesus, is to perceive that eternal purpose and embrace it with all of our being. Indeed, to live within His purpose is the very essence of our being!
Breadth of view will invariably be dependant upon depth of view. True vision will never come to those who have failed to perceive the essence of God's purpose. It is hard to look ahead and plan ahead when we have no insight into the nature of our calling. Until the church perceives ultimate Cause, don't expect to witness ultimate concern. People without purpose perish! It is lifelong aimless wandering in the wilderness, with life's goal never achieved. We must stand on the spiritual mountain top and look ahead into the land of promise before we can ever hope to be purpose-driven. One simply cannot help but think of the final words in the famous speech by Martin Luther King in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968 (delivered the day before he was murdered). "He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
Vision ... Purpose. Without them, we, the people of God in Christ, are destined to become irrelevant. However, to once again quote from Kennedy, "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope." Brethren, our troubled world is desperately in need of hope, but they will never perceive it if we ourselves have failed to do so. Depth of view involves perceiving that hope that is found in union with Christ Jesus; the very essence of our attainable oneness. Breadth of view is that awareness of the global challenge before us to share this eternal hope. We are the ambassadors of God's eternal purpose for mankind; a calling that demands courage of conviction and spiritual fortitude. Visionaries not only know what is, and have seen what can be, but are willing to sacrifice self in service to His divine will so that it shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. God calls us to be a Purpose-Driven Church ... indeed, there should be no other kind!
The apostle Paul speaks of those "called according to purpose" (Rom. 8:28), a truth upon which he comments even more extensively in Eph. 1:9 --- "God saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." Yes, our Lord has an eternal purpose. But, it doesn't reside solely with deity. That eternal purpose must be embraced by each of us. It is a common purpose; one shared by all who are truly in harmony with His purpose! "Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love; be one in spirit and purpose" (Philp. 2:2). Paul stated that the various workers in the kingdom of God, even though their abilities and opportunities differ, nevertheless "have one purpose ... for we are God's fellow workers" (1 Cor. 3:8-9). Near the end of his earthly sojourn, Paul told the younger Timothy, "You know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings" (2 Tim. 3:10). When Barnabas went to Antioch and witnessed the grace of God in operation among the many devoted brethren assembled there, "he rejoiced and exhorted everyone to abide in the Lord with purpose of heart" (Acts 11:23). This is the Greek word prothesis, which simply speaks of a pre-determination; "to set forth, or purpose, beforehand." It is that contemplative foresight of which we spoke earlier.
Consider the following quotes: "A church without a purpose and mission eventually becomes a museum piece of yesterday's traditions." "There is incredible power in having a clearly defined purpose statement." "The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts, and not worry about all the rest." "People working together for a great purpose don't have time to argue over trivial issues." Do these thoughts make sense? Are they biblically sound? Could they potentially be keys to the much greater relevance of the church in our world? Might the application of such draw us closer together in One Body? I believe the answer to each question is a resounding YES. Each of these statements was made by Rick Warren in his powerful work: The Purpose-Driven Church. The concept promoted by Rick Warren is not unique to this man; indeed, it is as old as the inspired Scriptures! Rick has merely sought to remind us all of what too many of us had forgotten: We are to be a people of purpose --- God's purpose, not man's!
What drives us as the chosen people of God? What motivates us as a congregation of believers in our community? Is our purpose and mission His purpose and mission? "Many are the purposes in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Prov. 19:21, NIV). We need to ask ourselves: What drives us both individually and collectively? Rick Warren has suggested several false motivations, and I think they are very much on target. They are listed below, along with a few relevant quotes by Rick.
Every congregation of believers, wherever and whenever they may be found, needs to carefully and prayerfully consider the question, "Why do we exist?!" For a group to be relevant in their communities they must determine their mission, their purpose. Growing, healthy, vibrant congregations know their reason for being. Those that do not, will in time simply cease to be! It is my firm conviction that every congregation should have a clearly defined Statement of Purpose; one that is kept ever before the members of the congregation. These can, and they should, vary from congregation to congregation (depending on one's resources and the composition of one's community), but it is vital to actually have one so that every member will be aware of their reason for being. The published purpose statement of the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ, just by way of example (the congregation where I have served for eight years as Pulpit Minister, and also for the last five years as one of the four Elders), is as follows:
for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
At the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ we are a spiritual family
It is our prayer that we can effectively serve our community by
We are a people enchanted with the Son, and seeking daily to
Being a people of purpose means, in part, that we desire to bring others into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Our great example in this resolve, as in all things, is the Son of God Himself. Jesus attracted the crowds. That is an undeniable fact. Wherever He went, multitudes followed along. There are three key reasons for this, and purpose-driven congregations will seek to follow in His footsteps with respect to each.
Purpose-driven congregations of believers in Christ seek to minister to others the way Jesus did. HE, after all, is our one true "Pattern." This means one must step out boldly and lead the way in innovative presentation and application of eternal Truth. That is not always popular. I really appreciate the following perspective by Rick Warren in his book: "If you are serious about ministering to people the way Jesus did, don't be surprised if some of today's religious establishment accuse you of selling out to culture and breaking traditions. YOU WILL BE CRITICIZED!! Trailblazers always get arrows shot at them. But criticism by other Christians should never keep you from ministering the way Christ did. Fulfilling God's purpose must always take priority over preserving tradition. ... Jesus reserved His most severe words for the rigid, religious traditionalists." Such legalists confuse their tradition with God's Truth, and are among Satan's most effective workers! A congregation will never grow where such rigid religionists and legalistic patternists are in control.
Speaking of growth, long before numerical growth can truly occur, there must be spiritual growth. This principle is clearly perceived in Acts 16:5 -- "So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily." A central purpose of the church is to become strong in the faith; numerical growth (which is God's "end of the stick" -- 1 Cor. 3:6-7) will naturally follow. Maturing in faith is critical to every phase of fulfilling our purpose; without it, all other areas of our mission will suffer. Rick Warren discusses some of the misconceptions of achieving spiritual maturity in his book, listing six "Maturity Myths" that can be devastating to a genuine increase in our faith. Again, I shall provide a wealth of quotes by Rick Warren to illustrate his points.
Myth One --- Spiritual growth and maturity
is automatic once you become a Christian.
Myth Two --- Spiritual growth is mystical, and
maturity is attainable by only a select few.
Myth Three --- Spiritual maturity can occur
instantly if you find the right "key."
Myth Four --- Spiritual maturity is
measured by what you know.
Myth Five --- Spiritual growth is a
personal and private matter.
Myth Six --- All you need is Bible study
in order to grow and mature spiritually.
It is said that people don't really care how much we know, until they know how much we care! Our purpose as the called out people of God in Christ is to convey His love, mercy, grace and compassion to our family, friends and neighbors ... and, yes, even to our enemies! We are to be a redemptive, healing, accepting community in the midst of a lost, hurting and alienated world. When we purpose in our hearts to grow and mature in faith, allowing ourselves to be transformed by His Spirit who indwells us, we shall become the type of living tools our Father can employ to plant, nourish and reap a harvest of precious souls. Rick Warren writes, "Although many passages describe what the church is to be and do, two statements by Jesus summarize it all: the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). Together, they give us the primary tasks the church is to focus on until Christ returns."
From a Doctor in Alabama:
Dear Al, I hope you are having a wonderful day! Please convey my sincere thanks to your readers for their kind responses to my article (Issue #242). I never anticipated such an overwhelmingly positive reaction. Now I've gotten a small taste of the wonderful feeling that you must get every week as your inbox overflows with positive feedback from your readers, and as you realize that God is using you to reach those who are in spiritual need. I am honored to have played even a small role in your online ministry. God bless you. Keep sowing the good seed!
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Al, "Tale of Two Churches" was excellent! Amen to every point! Thank you for having the courage to say what needs to be said. May God open the ears and eyes of every one of our brothers and sisters who still cling to exclusivism so that they may realize it is the Lord alone who makes any of His servants stand.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, Your article "Tale of Two Churches" is one of my favorite Reflections you have written lately (although I genuinely enjoy, and am edified by, all of them). Thank you for having the courage to speak the truth. I am sure you will receive some harsh criticism from the legalistic patternists, but I am also sure that by now you expect as much! Hang in there and keep doing what you do. We need men like you, and I appreciate your willingness to put yourself out there like you do!
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Bro. Al -- Wow! Applause! I never could whistle that loud whistle with two fingers in my mouth, so I'll just shout, "AMEN!!" Your review of John Waddey's article was tremendous. Thank you!! I really love your expressions: "Salvation is by grace, not group" ... "Not pattern, but paternity" ... "Not with US, but with HIM" ... "I don't check the sign above the door to determine the location of my brethren."
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Al, I enjoyed your article "Tale of Two Churches," and also the way you picked John Waddey's article apart and proved that it is nothing more than ultra-conservative drivel -- just more "I'm right and you're wrong" propaganda!
From a Minister in Oklahoma:
Bro. Al, Please accept my thanks (which I could offer every week, but I don't want to sound insincere) for your latest issue of Reflections ("Tale of Two Churches"). My own parents are practicing patternists, and by their close observation of my genuine joy in the Lord they seem lately to be questioning the absence of that Christian joy in their own lives. I only wish that there was some way to eliminate the fear that patternists thrive on to keep their "religion" alive!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Dear Al, Thanks for sharing your God-given talent with the world. You are making a real difference.
From a Minister in Alabama:
Dear Al, We would love to be added to your email list for Reflections, and also anything else you are putting out. Your article "Tale of Two Churches" was one of the best treatments of the subject I've ever read. Thanks so much for your insightful and very biblical thoughts. By the way, my wife has lots of family in Alamogordo, New Mexico and the surrounding area (Tommy Ledbetter is her uncle). Grace and peace to you!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Kudos, brother Al, for this outstanding piece ("Tale of Two Churches") concerning the perils of patternism. I suppose those of us who have been there and done that appreciate your keen insight into this subject even more than other readers do. May God continue to bless you in your work is my prayer.
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Brother, I just finished reading your "Tale of Two Churches," and must commend you (again) on your good writing. Great article; concisely written; helpfully trying to bring us out of our exclusivistic mindset of what the "church" is meant to be! Very articulate. Good use of the English language. Except in the section titled "Two Views of the Mission of the Church." Toward the end of that portion of your article, didn't you say exactly the opposite of what you meant to say? You wrote: "When it comes to doing what God has called us to do, He could care less about the pattern or form utilized." Didn't you mean to say that God could NOT care less? I guess it is because of your consistently expert use of the language that I notice things like this. It is so uncharacteristic of your writing style. By the way, Al, this note is meant to be humorously "nit-picking!" I really am much more serious-minded, otherwise I wouldn't cherish your Reflections as I do! You have my respect, gratitude and love.
From a Minister in Kansas:
Brother Al, One Cup Man here! I've just read your article "Tale of Two Churches," and I enjoyed it very much. For many years, some of us in the one cup, no class group have been sharing similar views with those members who would listen. We consider any person who has obeyed the gospel as a brother or sister in Christ. Yes, there is only one universal body of believers. All who follow the Lord are members of that Body. Several years ago a brother from the "cups and classes" group started to date a sister in a "one cup" congregation at which I spoke periodically. Love grew between them and they wanted to marry. However, some of her family wanted the young man to be rebaptized. I was asked if this was the right thing to do, and, of course, I said NO. The young man had already obeyed the gospel and there was no need, or even Scriptural precedent, for him to be baptized again. However, they insisted he had not been baptized "into the right church." I said that there is only one gospel to obey and only one church to be added to. Although they could not deny my view, nonetheless they pushed the issue until the young man was rebaptized. Later I spoke with him and his bride, and they both said that he had done it simply to shut her family up! How sad! I hope your readers will listen to this "ignorant one cup brother" -- we can differ on Bible subjects and still treat one another like brethren! We do not have to write each other up or stop talking to each other just because we differ on Bible subjects. We differ -- leave it at that, and let's all get on with the Lord's business: saving souls! Keep up the good work, Al.
From a Reader in California:
Brother Maxey, I grew up in the One Cup fellowship, but left it when I was in my mid-20's. That was almost half my life ago. In lieu of explaining my current doctrinal outlook, it's enough to say that I've read a large portion of your Reflections and have found myself in line with you almost top to bottom. I despise patternism and legalism. I also think CENI is one of the greatest sorrows to befall our fellowship. Also, I have believed as you do about marriage, divorce and remarriage since my 20's. Anyway, the elder's here have a study group, and they have decided to read and study about MDR. One told me that their emphasis is: "Looking at everything in the Bible from beginning to end about marriage, divorce and remarriage, including the cultural situation in biblical times, and seeking to find the best answers for today." I have injected your book -- Down, But Not Out -- into this study, and also all of your Reflections articles I could find that deal with this subject. Keep these men in your prayers as they study this material. By the way, you are a great writer. I have read all of your debates, and I am just amazed at how simply and plainly you are able to state Truth. I recommend your writings to others every chance I get.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I was working on a couple of ideas (regarding unity and autonomy) to present to our elders, ministers and staff, and then received your article "Tale of Two Churches." How timely this was!! You treated our brother with great respect and lovingly presented both sides.
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, I have especially appreciated your last two Reflections articles! I saw the Nancy Grace show ... and winced. But, I realized that the Baptist preacher reflected pretty accurately the theology I grew up with (but long ago rejected). In fact, he was considerably more accurate than Geraldo Rivera was, who described Matthew Winkler as a "rising star in the Pentecostal movement." Keep up the good work!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, "Tale of Two Churches" was an awesome article!! I have visited John Waddey's web site on occasion and know his viewpoints. As for the CNN interview by Nancy Grace with Tom Rukala (the Baptist pastor), what amazed me was: I think what he said was 90% right! I remember a dear Christian brother, about my father's age, who lived in total fear of death. He would make the claim that he was terrified to meet the Lord because he wasn't "good enough." He truly believed he was going to Hell. Thanks to legalistic patternism, he was anchoring his salvation on getting the "pattern" just right, instead of trusting in the blood of Jesus Christ. Bro. Al, thanks to you and others, we are turning this ship around and drawing thousands to Christ through His love and grace!!
From a Minister in Florida:
Al, I just read your good article: "Tale of Two Churches." As I was reading, I could not help but think of the recent interview on CNN with the Baptist pastor in which he gave his impression of the Church of Christ. As I read further, you mentioned this interview, and you apparently had reached the same conclusion that I did: what he said probably came from some negative experience or contact with a Church of Christ member or members. I wrote an article in our local weekly bulletin, and also mentioned in the sermon on Sunday morning, that some of the things this pastor said, I have personally heard some Church of Christ members say! Things such as, "If you are not a member of the Church of Christ you are going to hell." Yet, I seriously doubt that very many who are of a legalistic mindset will even realize that, rather than promoting the Cause of Christ, they are in fact hindering it. The statement by the Baptist pastor on CNN should be a wake-up call, but, unfortunately, it will probably do nothing more than upset the legalists, whose response will be to compare themselves to the persecuted Christians of the first century. Keep up the good work, Al.
From a Minister in California:
Excellent, as usual, Al. I will be interested in any response John Waddey may have to your review of his article. Were I Waddey, I would feel almost compelled to respond. As for the CNN interview with Nancy Graceless, there is a blog site by Joel Maners that you might find interesting. Read his article titled "I Repent and I'm Sorry" (dated April 4). I don't know Joel Maners, nor do I personally believe that I owe the Baptist pastor an apology, but nevertheless I did write to Tom Ruhkala so that he might know there are some in this "borderline cult" who would even consider him a brother, and that not all of us fit the perspective he has. Maybe writing to him might just be the start of building bridges with at least one person! Blessings, my brother!
From a Minister in California:
Bro. Al, I always ask people who tell me that they want to restore the worship practices and patterns of the Early Church, "Which church are you wanting to restore? Sardis? Jerusalem? Ephesus? Philadelphia? Certainly not Corinth?" As anyone who has studied the history of the Early Church for, let's say, more than ten minutes can tell you, it is very obvious that there were massive differences in how God's people worshipped and served the Master. I believe, as you have pointed out numerous times, Truth is a casualty when the legalistic/patternistic individual goes on a tear. Personally, I feel that Truth has no fear of scrutiny. Falsehood runs away at top speed!
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, I know what it was like to be bound by the Pharisaism of legalistic extremists. The fear, guilt and sense of personal failure instilled is unbelievably powerful and should not be understated. What can we do? I believe we are doing it. We are making people aware, as never before, of the dangers of forsaking the cross of Christ by legislating, requiring and binding where God has not. We must meet such extremists on the battlefield as we fight for Truth, and we must hold high the banner of Christ. We must never allow such men as John Waddey to go unchallenged, for he has taken a dangerous and deadly position. Thanks again for standing on the front line!! I am right next to you, and Christ Jesus is before us!!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, Thanks for the excellent article. It is a crying shame, but it is true that in the community where I live, and in the next one down the road, our past legalistic history has all but closed off the minds of the people in our communities to even considering anything we might have to say. Two congregations of the Church of Christ in my area are in the process of self-destructing. Three congregations across the bay have closed their doors. So sad!
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Maxey, I continue to appreciate and be challenged by your writings, and I thank you for your unselfish ministry in this way. We need people who can think scholarly, spiritually and practically, and who then can put it all in a form the rest of us can at least begin to chew on. Thank you!
From a New Reader in North Carolina:
Al, Eight years ago I became an elder at the ------- Church of Christ in North Carolina. My family roots go back through Jessie P. Sewell to T. B. Larimore. I went to Harding Academy and Harding College, which demonstrates my very strong conservative background. Shortly after I became an elder, I began to study Greek. As I studied, questions arose about many of the "sacred cows" of the Church of Christ, so I started researching several concepts and found much questionable dogma. I wrote articles on each one as I researched them, but have kept them somewhat confidential, as I thought I was alone in my questioning. This week we visited the ------- Church of Christ and found a member there who had been "grazing in the same field" as I was, and he gave me your web site. I am amazed at what I have been reading in your Reflections. The ten or so "sacred cows" that I have been questioning and researching, you also have written about. I'm thankful for you!
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