Issue #257 -------
July 20, 2006
Lord, what fools these mortals be!
A Midsummer Night's Dream
They seemed so normal to the casual observer. Sweet, gentle, kind. Even loving. They smiled; they embraced; they conversed. How deceptive it all was! Servants of Satan disguised as angels of light. That's what they were, you know. The Bible warned of this! More than once! And here it was, right before our eyes; flaunting itself shamelessly in the light of day. Women who were openly professing to be servants of the Savior, but in reality they were simply disciples of the devil. This "gaggle of godless gals" had assembled themselves together in the hills outside the city for a weekend "Christian Women's Retreat." How innocent it all sounded to the spiritually unenlightened; how well-intentioned it appeared to the unlearned and unsuspecting. They actually sang hymns and spiritual songs (the nerve of these women); they prayed; they ate together; they studied Scripture (for all the good it did them). The entire weekend was an abomination! God was completely disgusted by their lack of respect for His inspired Word. Where in all of the NT writings had He ever "authorized" a Women's Retreat?! Did the early church ever once have such a gathering? Nope! Therefore, we know for a fact that it is sinful. These women thought they were pleasing their God. What fools. Unless they repent, they will burn in hell; tortured endlessly by our loving, merciful God.
Sick to your stomachs yet? If not, you should be! The above is nauseating. It is so gut-wrenchingly disgusting that one wants to vomit. And it is the viewpoint of some within our own Stone-Campbell faith-heritage. "Oh, come on, Bro. Maxey! You can't be serious! Nobody is that nuts!" Sad to say, you are wrong. This is actually an example of normal thinking among the ultra-conservative, legalistic patternists. Indeed, some actually seem to take pride in such "contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints" [Jude 3], and this despicable attitude goes back to the early days of our movement. "Prior to granting American women the right to vote, the prevailing attitude of American men, both in and out of the church, was that women did not have the capacity to make informed decisions on matters of state. Moreover, they could vote through their husbands (their heads) and through their sons. If women wanted to tell the story of the cross, it also could be done through their husbands and sons. Some schools (in our faith-heritage) would not allow women to attend Bible classes. They later changed, but allowed women to enter the class only after the young men were seated, and made them leave the classroom ahead of the young men. David Lipscomb was so opposed to co-education that he declared that Southern girls who attended these institutions returned home as 'prostitutes.' He later recanted and allowed Nashville Bible School (now known as David Lipscomb University) to admit women" [Robert H. Rowland, I Permit Not A Woman ... To Remain Shackled, chap. 17].
Lest you think that nobody in our movement today could possibly still have such an unenlightened view of women and their place in the work of the church, let me give you an actual example from just a few days ago. Our dear sisters in Christ Jesus in southern California, who happen to be descendants of the Stone-Campbell faith-heritage, and who work and worship within the group known as Churches of Christ, are currently planning their annual retreat. The Southern California Christian Women's Retreat is scheduled to occur in October. The "2006 Women's Retreat Committee" sent out a letter to their sisters throughout the area, stating, "We hope and pray you will be able to join us this year to grow spiritually as well as take time to fellowship with those of like faith!" The letter went on to reveal: "Our topic this year is 'Sweet Surrender,' and will focus on the biblical examples and guidelines of submission and surrendering, as well as the challenges of implementing these in our daily lives. Our society is so focused on being liberated and completely in control of our own lives that it is often hard for a Christian woman to know what a woman after God's heart really looks like. We look forward to studying and drawing closer to our Heavenly Father with you."
Well, this all seems innocent enough, doesn't it?! It certainly appears to be righteously motivated, and to have a spiritual focus and intent. Right?! One would even assume good just might come from such an event, wouldn't one?! And yet, the legalistic patternists see only the handiwork of Satan, NOT of God, in all of this. Christian Women's Retreats are an innovation straight from the depths of hell. They are totally without biblical authority, and thus those women who participate are literally placing at risk their eternal salvation. This is serious business ... or, so we are told in no uncertain terms by those who are entrenched within the tedious tenets of legalistic patternism.
Bryan Matthew Dockens, who is the minister for the Vegas Drive Church of Christ in Las Vegas, Nevada, has come out publicly in condemnation of this effort of our sisters in Christ in southern California who simply seek spiritual fellowship with one another and a greater closeness with their God. On July 7, 2006 Bryan posted two articles to the very ultra-conservative, largely Non-Institutional Church of Christ Internet Bible study group known as Biblelist. One, titled "Uprooted," was written by him, the other, titled "A Concerned Sister's Answer to the Women's Retreat," was written by Beverly Ann Dockens (whom I assume to be his wife). I am not a member of this Internet group (or of any such legalistic group, for that matter --- they won't let me anywhere near their members), but one of my Reflections readers who is a member [a dear brother and friend from the beautiful state of Florida], forwarded these articles on to me, along with this comment: "This just about does it for me with regard to conservatism and patternism! I believe that sometimes they just carry things too far. I thought you'd want to read these, if someone hasn't already sent them on to you!" I must agree with this dear brother. The sentiments of these articles do indeed turn the stomach. They are shameful.
Bryan Dockens wrote, in part: "Jesus said, 'Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted' (Matt. 15:13). Despite His fair yet stern warning, religious people routinely plant what God has not planted. This is evident in the hundreds of denominations established by men, competing with the Lord's 'one body.' Sadly, this disturbing practice is not limited to those outside the body. Many within the church, often unwittingly, prove themselves dissatisfied with the divine arrangement by exceeding the authority of the Scriptures and establishing religious institutions of their own, such as church operated orphanages, colleges with preacher training courses, or foundations that conduct gospel meetings. The latest example of this trend ... is the 'Annual Southern California Christian Women's Retreat.' ... In the absence of Scriptural authority, even good intentions must be set aside -- 2 Sam. 7:1-7" [Biblelist, Post #11,492]. Note additionally just a few of the comments from the article by Beverly Ann Dockens, which appears to be in the form of an "Open Letter" to the women of the retreat committee:
Even a cursory reading of these thoughts quickly reveals that this couple is entirely clueless as to the genuine nature of "the church." An assembly of Christian women at a retreat in southern California is just as much "the church" in action as a Sunday morning assembly of men, women and children inside a building in Las Vegas, Nevada. The "church" consists of PEOPLE ... called out disciples. "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst" (Matt. 18:20). Time and location are irrelevant. Wherever and whenever God's children come together, the church is "in session." It does NOT have to be a formal "worship service" (just where, by the way, is that phrase ever found in Scripture?), nor does it have to be inside a dedicated, denominated physical edifice. WE are the church -- you and I -- the "called out ones" of God in Christ. Thus, as we daily go about our lives, which are ever presented as living sacrifices to Him, the "church" is daily being displayed to the world about us. To limit "the church" to a specific place and time, and to then further limit it to specific activities (the "five acts"), is far more an "institutionalization" of the universal One Body than the dreaded "innovations of digressives" these legalistic patternists deplore and decry so devotedly!
This man and woman clearly regard a retreat for women to be some form of "extra-church" organization or institution. Such female disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ "prove themselves dissatisfied with the divine arrangement by exceeding the authority of the Scriptures and establishing religious institutions of their own," writes Bryan. Beverly would say to these same women, "You risk jeopardizing your soul's salvation by creating a new organization." It is this exact same thinking that has led to the condemnation of Sunday School classes. Since the Bible is "silent" with regard to such an arrangement, it is "obvious" that such "innovations" are NOT of God, but of the devil. Thus, for women to meet "apart from the church" to study His Word and encourage one another is anathema. By doing so, they risk being cast into hell by our merciful, loving God.
What these people fail to perceive is that "the church" IS these women! The word ekklesia simply refers to those who are called out. You and I are the called out ones of God in Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ no matter where I am, and I am a disciple 24 hours a day. Where two or more of us are gathered in His name, we are gathered together as the called out ones (the "church"). If a dozen of us are in the mountains on a Saturday, and we are gathered as His disciples in His name, praising Him and learning of Him and encouraging one another, the called out ones of God are assembled together, and Jesus says He is right there with them. The "church" is thus "in session." This is NOT some "extra-church" organization, but merely devoted members of the universal One Body seeking fellowship with one another. That such an effort to come together as family may have required some level of planning to achieve in no way suggests these women were seeking to replace the church with an organizational structure of their own, or that they sought to create some new institution to supplant the church. The reality is: they ARE the church, and simply came together to encourage one another and stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).
To regard such as the work of the devil is ludicrous! Sadly, however, such has always been the focus of those who are "law-bound." That these women are being spiritually uplifted and drawn closer together, and growing stronger in their walk with the Lord, is irrelevant. "Rules are rules!" Or, in the words of Bryan Dockens, "In the absence of Scriptural authority, even good intentions must be set aside!" Retreats for women are not mentioned in the NT, so ladies ... knock it off. Sit there quietly in your pews in the church building on Sunday morning and just be thankful God allows you to be there! Stay pregnant and in submission, and the Lord just might let you into heaven. The last thing God wants is a bunch of women "stepping out of their place" and starting up some new "church" up in the mountains.
Good grief!! May God awaken us before our lunacy leads us to ruin!!
From an Elder in Ohio:
Dear Bro. Al, I have read your book Down, But Not Out, and I want to thank you for organizing your thoughts and studies on divorce and remarriage in such a concise and thorough manner in your book. My question to you would be: do you teach congregations, or select groups within congregations, your understanding of the Scriptures concerning this issue of divorce and remarriage? Please respond, because we are desperate here in -----------, Ohio and need this teaching!
From a Reader in Nevada:
Al, I have just read again your article "A Cloud of Witnesses: An Analysis of Hebrews 12:1" [Issue #241], and it is such an encouraging line of thought. I read it when you first sent it out in March, but tonight I really enjoyed it. Just to think -- we keep company with such great people from the past, present and future. Thank you for presenting this as you did.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, This negative inference concept is intriguing. I will have to explore this some more. As usual, you have succeeded in making me think, and sometimes that is difficult! I also enjoyed your article on the Samaritan woman at the well [Issue #252], and plan to use portions of your thoughts as stepping stones for part of my class on worship.
From a Reader in New York:
Dear brother, Thank you for your submitted scholarship in your Reflections. You are a tributary of the living water!
From a Reader in Texas:
Bro. Al, Thanks so much for some great writing in this week's Reflections ("Doctrine of Negative Inference"). I hope your vacation was all you and Shelly had hoped for!
From an Elder in Idaho:
Dear Brother Al, I pray this note finds both you and Shelly well. I also pray that your vacation has refreshed and strengthened you. It has been a while since I communicated with you, but I always read with anticipation your Reflections. I never cease to be amazed at the continued strength that you display in the face of so much opposition. Keep the faith and continue the good work for the Lord. Also, I am writing for your permission to use your duck illustration from your last article for a Bible class that I am preparing. I will give you credit, of course, but did not want to use it without your blessing.
From a Reader in Texas:
Bro. Al, I have an on-going debate with a precious young woman who graduated from A.I.M. in Lubbock and who is now on the mission field in France. Your wonderful article on negative inference has stated so well what I have tried numerous times to explain to her. In ultra-conservative circles of the Churches of Christ, as you know so well, any attempt to explain a better interpretation of Scripture is said to be "from Satan" and an attempt by him to destroy the unity of the church. You have made this all so clear, and yet they still harden their hearts and refuse to listen. By the way, I loved the duck cartoon you used to make your point. Keep up the good work.
From an Elder in Florida:
Thanks, Bro. Al, for your article on negative inference. I love your stuff. I know how much time it takes to put together a study like that, so please know that a lot of folks are being blessed by your efforts. I had the privilege of being able to attend the recent North American Christian Conference in Louisville, KY. It was terrific, and the spirit of unity was encouraging. On the negative inference issue, I guess I try to focus on what I do know, not on what I don't know. I do know, for example, that if I repent and am baptized in the name of Jesus I am blessed with forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit. I may not know what happens when someone doesn't respond, but I am thrilled to know what happens when we do. I think it was Will Rogers who said, "It's not what I don't know about the Bible that troubles me, it's what I do know that troubles me." I also have enough of what I do know to keep me busy, without having to go and get a bunch of additional stuff through inference and assumption to pile on top of it. Thanks again, brother Al, for your excellent insights!
From a New Reader in [Unknown]:
Bro. Al, I read you for the very first time today, and I think some of the things you speak about are probably true. However, I strongly disagree with your comments about Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:16 in your most recent Reflections -- in which you stated that immersion is not necessary. There are just too many other passages which teach immersion is necessary for salvation.
From a Reader in Barbados, Caribbean Islands:
Al, Let me say that you've made an indelible mark on me while dealing with the matter of negative inference. I am still inclined towards salvation by faith alone, even though I see baptism as a command from the Bible. For example, we are commanded to do good works, even though our salvation is not granted to us on the merits of good works. I believe in the same way we ought to register for all to see that we have signed up with Jesus, and we should not be ashamed to do this. Hence, I personally view baptism as the obvious choice for the person who has experienced the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, I would not be so audacious as to state dogmatically that unless one is baptized by immersion that that person is in danger of losing his eternal salvation, or that he was never saved in the first place. I do believe your conclusion on the matter of negative inference, however, takes care of this very beautifully. Great going, Al. God bless you.
From a Christian Church Minister in California:
Al, Your article on the doctrine of negative inference hit home. I'd have to say that I have been guilty of placing too much weight on the negative inference of Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, et al. Thanks for expressing it in such a clear way. Al, I have concluded the major difference between those of us in the American Restoration Movement and our "faith only" friends is NOT the importance of baptism, but rather where we draw the line of salvation. Is it BB [before baptism] or AB [after baptism]? The fact is, WE can't draw that line at all. God does. Our job is to lead people to place their trust in Jesus and to obey Him as their Lord and Savior. I'm perfectly content to let God draw the line of salvation wherever He wants to draw it. I'll just keep preaching the Good News, pointing people to Jesus, and baptizing them to obey Him. He can take care of all the details!
From a Missionary in Brazil:
Dear Al, We are obliged to baptize -- Jesus commanded it. We are not obliged to condemn anyone, even the unbaptized. Is lack of baptism the unforgivable sin? In baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit; experiencing the removal of that which separates us from God, thus receiving the guarantee of salvation. However, God is quite capable of forgiving sin apart from baptism. God is also quite capable of granting salvation apart from baptism -- but, having said that, there is no Scriptural guarantee that He will. We are not saved by a system of religious law, not even a law of baptism. We are saved by the grace of God and our faith (submission to Him on the basis of faith in Him). If you live by law, you must keep the entire law, and not one person has ever done so! I'd rather trust in His grace to save me, even as I make every effort to correctly handle the Word of Truth -- knowing, practicing and teaching it to others.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, Just a note to let you know that I have just returned from Tanzania where I had been on a mission trip for Africa Self-Help Initiative. We have located two acres of land upon which we will build a medical clinic. Also, we have started a small effort in Tanga, Tanzania which will help the children of that community. While in Moshi, which is at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, I met a brother in Christ who is doing a great work there. He will probably contact you soon, as I gave him your web site as a study help. He has come out of the Law/Pattern mentality and now knows there is a better way. Your writings are having a great impact on East and West Africa! The brethren there are really searching for God's eternal Truth. You are proving to be a blessing!
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Welcome back, Al. And thank you for this Reflections on negative inference. You always touch on something that I've been wondering about or asking God for an answer to. God bless you, and I hope you have a wonderful day!
From a Reader in California:
Dear Al, I'm forwarding your latest Reflections to one of our former elders who is presently teaching through the books of Timothy (and doing an excellent job). Your thoughts on the doctrine of negative inference were outstanding. It was something I'd been aware of, but had simply never quite thought through as you did. On another topic altogether, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the current Church of Christ -- Christian Church unity movement. I am all for recognizing (again) those who have always been our brothers and sisters in the Lord. However, there seems to be somewhat of an element in all this effort that "WE" (our two groups) comprise the fullness of the kingdom; that if "WE" can get together again, then the kingdom will be healthier. Granted, we need to come back together, but I think the kingdom is so much larger than just "US." In the larger perspective, "OUR" getting together again is not that significant to His much vaster kingdom (which we tend to ignore). Uniting the kingdom of God involves so much more than this attempt to unify two groups of an historical movement in America. Does this make sense? What do you think?!
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, Long time no talk to! I hope all is well with you and Shelly and your ministry. I just wanted to drop you a note to say the response from the "Reader from Unknown" in your last Reflections touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. What a blessing you are to others, Al. I just want to thank you again for your courage, determination and willingness to share the gifts God has blessed you with. Even to your own peril many, many times from those "wolves" who wish to silence you and keep you away from all the rest of us struggling to escape from legalism. And to that brother or sister whose story you shared, I would also like to say thank you for sharing that testimony!! You may never know how many lives you touched and ultimately changed by sharing such intimate thoughts and feelings. Thank you, Al, for blessing our lives through sharing the gospel of our wonderful Lord and Savior!
From a Minister in Oklahoma:
Dear Bro. Al, I really appreciated this last lesson of yours on negative inference. It is much like the man in John 9:25 -- a real eye opener, and certainly thought-provoking. My sincere thanks for that study. You are a real blessing to my life!
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, Thanks for the masterpiece about negative inference! I perceive it also to be a masterpiece about positive obedience to a loving and merciful God and Savior. The very real danger for many of us is the very thing you have stated -- that is, it is easy to elevate our inferences (which are often only our opinions) to the level of LAW to be bound upon all. The Lord bless you and keep you, Al.
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
You make some good points in your article on negative inference, Al. I have always struggled with those who proclaim that we are saved by "faith only." Mr. Dixon (whom you quote in your article) does make some good points about negative inference, though. We should all do more of: "speak where the Bible speaks; be silent where it is silent." Keep up the good work!
From a New Reader in California:
Dear Al Maxey, I just read your latest Reflections on negative inference. I have printed it off and am going to mail it to my mother in Ohio. I am very impressed with your thoroughness. I was raised in the Church of Christ in the south ... and still attend a Church of Christ (our Minister is one of your subscribers). Growing up in the south, however, I had never heard a sermon on either Grace or the Holy Spirit. We have missed so much!! I look forward to receiving your weekly Reflections, and will be going back into your Archives to learn more!
From a Minister in [Unknown]:
Dear Al, I am a minister in the deep south and enjoy reading your Reflections as they challenge me and provoke me to delve deeper into God's Word. Speaking of challenge, let me share a conversation I had after services today. A family from another part of the state visited our congregation, and the father came up and said he needed "to have a moment with me." In the span of one brief conversation, he pointed out that (1) failing to use the KJV, which uses (Thee & Thou), lowers God to a human level, (2) mid-day communion is an innovation of the Catholic Church, (3) communion should be observed in the evening because Paul preached until midnight, (4) sisters should not make audible confession in the assembly, (5) the invitation song is unscriptural, (6) it is unlawful to invite anyone to come forward for prayers during the service, and (7) benevolent societies are wrong. For the record, my message this morning was on the mote and the beam! This family, with such a voracious appetite for finding law-keeping errors in churches, raised a son who was incarcerated for breaking the laws of the state. The irony is staggering. I am not making any of this up. Thanks for allowing this airing of frustration. Lord, grant us mercy and patience!
From a Baptist Pastor in New Mexico:
Al, I have been enjoying the Bible Studies section of your web site. I've been spending some time in your study of the Intertestamental Period and the Minor Prophets. Thanks for all the hard work you put into it. I would love to get together with you again sometime!
From a Reader in Michigan:
Al, As far as negative inferences are concerned, it seems to me that some people make too much of the "exceptions to the rule." The mere fact that there are exceptions to Mark 16:16, which you mentioned (infants, the mentally challenged, and the like), does not invalidate baptism's importance for the vast majority of people (as you have stated). This is Dixon's mistake, I think. Alexander Campbell, who himself refused to go as far as insisting on baptism's essentiality for all, made the following comment about a disputant (I'm paraphrasing from memory), "My opponent assumes I invalidate baptism the moment I admit the bare possibility of one being saved without it!" If one wants to take an extreme example of an exception, and then use that exception to try to invalidate a common rule for most people, then his motivation is out of whack. If exceptions invalidated the rule, then they would be the rule and not the exception. The fact that both the rule and the exception exist is something we all have to come to grips with. Circumstances alter cases, as my dad used to say. In most cases, baptism is the norm. But not in all cases. There are exceptions. But that fact does not invalidate the rule, as Dixon would have us believe. Your last Reflections was yet another excellent, challenging study, Al. How do you do it?!
From a Minister in [Unknown]:
Bro. Al, I have been preaching for more than 30 years. My cousin sent me some of your Reflections, and so I subscribed. I must say, you have a way with words. You are a good writer and a well-read, thinking individual. I believe we should all be challenged not to simply accept what our forefathers taught just because they taught it. We should study for ourselves! I have a couple of questions: (1) In your article on negative inferences you quoted, "We speak where the Bible speaks, and we are silent where the Bible is silent." You stated, "Scripture commands: believe, repent, confess, be baptized ... so we preach and teach it." You then said, "Perhaps we should all practice what we preach far more often when it comes to our interpretive philosophy!" Al, are you saying here that the Bible does not command the above? (2) Does the duck in the cartoon have a pig's nose, or is this just my assumption?
Interesting Update on Forthright Magazine -- Some of you may remember my failed attempt at dialogue with some of the staff at Forthright Magazine which occurred several months back. It is chronicled, for those who may be interested, in Issue #238 -- Opinings of a Night Owl (dated March 7, 2006). In light of that whole incident, which was centered around their refusal to answer my question "What is the pattern?" -- and my request for them to simply provide it -- I found the following comments highly interesting (which came from the July 15, 2006 issue of Forthright Magazine, in an article by David Mendiola titled "Fear of Questions"). David began the article by quoting 1 Pet. 3:15 -- "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." David then wrote, in part, "We often go through our lives afraid that someone will ask us a particular question. If someone asks me why I believe in God and not evolution, what will I say? What if someone asks me how I can possibly believe in the resurrection? What should I say if someone asks me why I believe the Bible truly is the Word of God, or why I believe that it teaches this or that? Instead of being detrimental, such questions provide us with an opportunity to share our faith. Don't be afraid for anyone to ask!" What a great attitude!! I tried to post a comment to the author at Forthright Magazine, and to see if perhaps this brother could at last answer the question I have been asking of patternists for 30 years. Sadly, I learned that I have been blocked by the "powers that be" at this magazine, and am forever forbidden to ask questions of their writers. How ironic in light of their latest article: "Fear of Questions." Such a glaring inconsistency speaks volumes to the spiritually perceptive. --- Al Maxey
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