by Al Maxey

Issue #264 ------- September 6, 2006
Righteousness cannot be born
until self-righteousness is dead.

Bertrand Russell {1872-1970}

You Bet Your Life
Would You Wager Salvation
on Preciseness of Pattern &
Perfection of Perception?

I'm most likely "showing my age" by this admission, but I remember watching the TV show "You Bet Your Life," which was hosted by Groucho Marx, one of the famous Marx Brothers. This was back during those pre-historic days of black-and-white television -- yes, I lived BC = before color. This show began as a radio broadcast in 1947, and transitioned to television on October 5, 1950 on NBC. It enjoyed quite a bit of success during the decade of the 1950's, was renamed "The Groucho Show" in 1960, and finally went off the air a year later, the last episode airing on June 29, 1961. There were a total of 429 episodes filmed. It was a quiz show, a television genre quite popular back then, in which Groucho would interview contestants to see if any of them would say "the secret word" -- a commonly used word, which was selected at random, and revealed to the audience before the dialogue with the contestant began. If the contestant uttered this word, a duck wearing glasses, with a cigar in its bill (somewhat resembling Groucho), would descend from the ceiling to deliver $50 to the contestant. There were other parts to the show also, in which contestants would have to answer questions for prizes. The real appeal, however, was in the dialogue between Groucho and the contestants (a precursor to the late night talk shows), and he would quite often have people on as contestants who had been in the news or who were celebrities. Although the show began as "low budget," by the end of its run on television the prize for winning contestants had increased to $10,000 -- quite a significant sum back in the late 50's and early 60's.

This current issue of Reflections is not about this classic TV show, however. Rather, it is based upon the premise of the title -- upon what would you personally be willing to bet your life? Let's phrase it another way, and give it a spiritual application: Upon what would you be willing to bet your hope of eternal life? Is there anything you feel so sure of that you would rest your very salvation upon the rightness or wrongness of your conviction? In other words, if you are right about this, you go to heaven; if you are wrong, you go to hell. Upon what are you so absolutely, positively certain that you would boldly say to God on the day of judgment, "Save me or destroy me based solely upon the rightness or wrongness of my personal conviction on this one particular matter"? Any takers out there?!! Are any of you that bold; that confident of your personal convictions? There are some things, assuredly, upon which each of us would most likely willingly base our salvation -- the existence of God, the deity of Jesus Christ, belief in His death, burial and resurrection, for example.

But let's get even more specific; let's narrow our focus ... and, yes, we're going to step on some toes here, and it's going to be painful! We're going to challenge you to think, so prepare yourself. This may be unpleasant for some of you! Over the years I have heard countless legalistic sectarians and factionists declare their particular party preferences to be the very basis of one's eternal hope. In other words, their own perceptions and practices are not only terms of fellowship, but actually conditions of salvation. I wonder, though --- would these individuals actually be willing to "bet their life" on these bold assertions? They are most certainly willing to divide the family of God over them, dismembering His precious One Body, but are they willing to stake "life eternal" upon the perfection of their perception and the preciseness of their pattern? Just how confident are they?

Instrumental music. I actually know of those who say, and have heard them say it, "If you sing unto God in a 'worship service' with instrumental accompaniment, you will go to hell." Well, that certainly sounds like a strong conviction, doesn't it? Dear brother or sister, are you willing to "bet your life" on it?! Well, are you?! Just how confident are you in the infallibility of your position? Confident enough to base your own hope of salvation upon it? You're certainly willing to declare unsaved those who differ with you. If they are wrong about this matter, you boldly declare, then they are lost. What if you are wrong? Does that mean you are lost? Are you willing to "bet your life" that you are right?! Are you that sure?! You would be very well advised to remember and reflect upon the words of Jesus before you answer: "In the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your own standard of measure, it will be measured to you" [Matt. 7:2]. Still want to "bet your life" on it?

One cup or individual cups. Sunday School classes. Fellowship halls. Kitchens. Support of homes for the aged and orphans out of the "treasury." Eating a meal in the church building. Each of these "weighty matters," and many hundreds more, have been the source of debate and division within Churches of Christ. Souls have been sentenced to hell from our pulpits for daring to differ with the party line. Brethren have been declared to be "apostate." Life and death are said to hang in the balance if one chooses incorrectly in these matters. Are you willing to "bet your life" on it? Are you?! Are you so absolutely certain of your conviction that eating in a church building is a soul-damning sin that if you are wrong about this you would be willing to forfeit your very own salvation? "Lord, if I was wrong in my conviction about eating in a building, then send me to hell!" Do any of you want to volunteer to make that statement to God on the day of judgment? Are there any takers out there?!

Are you beginning to "get the picture" here? Is the light starting to come on for some of you? I sincerely hope so. And yet, I know for a fact that, as incredible as it may seem, there are actually some of you out there who would be willing to answer the above questions with an emphatic Yes. Frankly, that is frightening. It displays a depth of ignorance and arrogance that is truly appalling. I'm sure some of you are saying, "Al, you are wrong here! No one would ever be so bold as to answer the above questions in the affirmative." I agree -- it sounds too incredible to be true. But, brethren, I can prove it! The sad, tragic reality is: some among those enslaved to legalistic patternism have become so darkened by this false doctrine that they truly believe it is impossible for them to be wrong on these issues. Some of them are actually so convinced they are right, and everyone else is wrong, that they would indeed stake their very salvation upon it. It makes our blood run cold to think such people exist, but they do. And this spirit infests the church, which is, in part, why we are so divided today.

The proof of my above assertion? Well, it can be found right there on the infamous MarsList. On Wednesday, August 23, 2006 a very enlightened, grace-centered new member of that largely Non-Institutional Church of Christ Bible "discussion" list (whose days on there, I can assure you, are numbered), posted a legitimate challenge to this group under the subject line "Simple Question -- Yes or No Answer" [Message #1556]. This disciple of Christ from the beautiful state of Oregon revealed that he was a reader of my Reflections [strike one]. "I've spent many hours looking over the writings of Al Maxey, who has for some reason been an ongoing topic of this board." He even dared to state on there: "I may not agree with every line of his teaching, but from what I have read, I appreciate his deeper knowledge and ability to challenge the thinking of any student of the Word." He also suggested that the statements of some on that list with regard to me personally, and to my teachings, "remind me of those who stoned Stephen." This brother also informed the group that he was quite familiar with their doctrinal positions, as he too had grown up in "a conservative Church of Christ congregation," and had "used the same arguments found on this board to justify 'our' position ... until honesty took over and I actually started studying, questioning my own inconsistencies and those of my teachers, and ultimately admitting that regardless of my intentions, I had missed it on several fronts" [strike two].

The real point of his post, however, was this very pointed question to the members of the group: "Would you be willing to bet your soul on the correctness of your position on these issues?" He then listed such issues as instrumental music, eating in the church building, MDR (marriage, divorce, remarriage), the nature of eternal punishment, and the like. I found it fascinating that almost immediately a member from the state of Tennessee responded: "My answer: Yes! I know if I am teaching truth or not on all the issues you mentioned" [Message #1559]. Well, there you have it folks! Here is a man who is willing to stand before God and literally stake his own eternal salvation on the claim that he is absolutely correct on every issue; that he is personally infallible! That, dear brothers and sisters, is nothing less than salvation by perfect perception and practice. Makes you wonder just where God's Grace factors in to his theology, now doesn't it?! This is the very danger of such legalistic thinking -- it places one's trust for salvation in a pattern, not a Person. This MarsList member from Tennessee also could not resist adding this additional comment: "As for Al Maxey challenging your thinking, he will until honesty sets in and the realization that his lies will cost people their souls." Naturally, he didn't bother to elaborate upon, or even to specify, the nature of these so-called "lies" of mine that will cost people their souls. I would love to know what they are! I suppose that will not happen, however, as these members seem only interested in talking about me, not to me.

As might also be expected, however, most of the members of this Non-Institutional list simply ignored the question altogether. Some who dared to respond, did so only to condemn the one asking the question. One reader, for example, wrote to the new member from Oregon, "I must say, your question reminds me of a question from Scripture." He quoted Matt. 22:15-18, where some ancient legalists were testing Jesus with a question designed to trap Him, and then he closed his post by saying, "Beware when someone smooches up to you before asking a pointed question" [Message #1560]. Our grace-centered brother from the state of Oregon had a wonderful response. He wrote to him the following: "Thank you for your response, although you did not answer the question. ... The one obvious difference between my question and the question from the Pharisees was that Jesus was not afraid of the alleged trap and answered the question. Also, I seem to recall a few instances where Jesus would ask a question, but failed to get a response from the Pharisees because they knew their answer would indict them. I'm still awaiting your answer" [Message #1564].

It is very understandable why most feel a great reluctance to answer this question. The reality is, and they know this, no matter which way they answer, they are indicted. If they answer Yes, as did the man from Tennessee, they present such a picture of arrogance that people turn away from them in disgust. To answer Yes is to declare one's perceptions infallible, and to declare salvation to be based largely, if not exclusively, upon perfection of practice with regard to matters not even mentioned within the Scriptures. Redemption, therefore, becomes conditional upon embracing a body of inferred doctrines and practices, the least deviation from which will cause one to be eternally damned. This is the epitome of legalism, and it is condemned time and again in the NT writings.

If, on the other hand, one should choose to answer No, then one is very quickly faced with a very legitimate challenge to the perceived exclusivity of (and redemptive character of) one's own perceptions, preferences and practices. If you are unwilling to "bet your life" on the certainty of your convictions, then your convictions may not be as "certain" as you might like to think them to be. If one admits the possibility that one might just be wrong, then one consequently admits thereby that another, who holds a differing conviction, just might be right. This, of course, opens the door to the reality that God's Family just might be vaster than our own little faction within a movement within Christendom. Horrors!! What a thought! Can't have that, now can we?! What would that do to our claim to be the only ones going to heaven? The only ones who have God's Word all figured out? The only ones who worship acceptably? To answer No places in danger a whole herd of sacred cows! Sadly, too many legalists just can't bring themselves to answer No, but neither can they bring themselves to say Yes. Therefore, they run and hide until the one asking the question goes away. Then they return to the comfort of their delusion, which forms all evangelistic effort around preaching a position, rather than a Person.

Thank God for the ever growing number of disciples ... and, yes, this number is even growing on MarsList, and also within the Non-Institutional Churches of Christ in general ... who are truly beginning to THINK outside the box of legalistic patternism. Such questions as the one asked by this brother from Oregon, and similar challenges that I, and others, have been issuing for many years, are bringing about some serious reflection within these sectarian camps. For example, notice this response from a MarsList member from the state of Illinois: "Good question. Here's my simple answer: NO. Here's my explanation: I'd like to think that I've got all the issues figured out, but I know better. I'm not in the same place I was ten years ago on several issues simply because I've investigated them more fully. I'm not talking about radical changes, but significant ones, nevertheless. I am more tolerant than I used to be because of this. I also have come to realize that if I'm going to make a mistake in judgment, I want to err on the side of grace. ... In my mind, more serious than having all the issues figured out is the spirit one manifests toward others. If our attitude is not one of striving for unity, peace, and understanding of the Truth, and if we are not known for our love, we're going to be in a world of hurt come Judgment Day -- regardless of whether we've got all the issues figured out. I'd never bet my soul on my feeble understanding, but I am planning on living forever in that eternal abode because of God's grace and my faith" [Message #1565].

A MarsList member from Texas wrote, "No. I would not bet my soul on doctrinal correctness. Instead, I will bet my soul on the grace of a loving God afforded to me through the sacrifice of His Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ" [Message #1568]. Yet another member of that Internet group wrote the following insightful words: "This is such a great question and one we should ask ourselves often. My answer is NO. I have been a Christian for 51 years -- most of it in the Church of Christ. I was raised Church of Christ and held most of the 'conservative' positions for about 35 of those years. I would have answered Yes during that period of time because I 'knew' I held to the 'proper' doctrines of the Lord's church. Now, after 20 years of further study, I have become what most of you would call a 'Liberal.' I now hold the position that our salvation does not depend on 'perfect' doctrine, actions, or theology. Our salvation is totally Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith, and not by our 'superior' theology or knowledge. Our salvation is from the blood of Jesus, not our 'perfect' worship services. I have changed my own positions on a number of 'doctrines' over the years, and know now that we must be patient with other Christians and give them a chance to grow in grace and Truth" [Message #1578].

On Thursday, August 24, 2006, the above grace-centered disciple from Oregon, who had asked the original question, posed a second question (actually two questions) to the members of MarsList. That post, under the subject heading "A Question for Your Answers" [Message #1623], presented the following challenges based upon the response to the previous question:

  1. To those who answered Yes --- "Do you understand that you have equated your knowledge, understanding, position on any doctrinal issue with the saving blood of the Christ? Is your soul only worth what you think you know about any given biblical subject? Have you always, from your first exposure to an issue, held the same infallible position? You apparently will not ever change your position on these issues since you have arrived at all truth on them, but if you did, would that not imply that you were eternally condemned until you changed your mind?"

  2. To those who answered No --- "If we will not bet our own soul on our own understanding of every issue, if we are not willing to condemn our own soul if we are ever incorrect, then how in the name of our Lord can we condemn (bet away) the soul of someone who has a different and, yes, possibly more accurate understanding of the 'issues' we hold so dear to our cause? If we condemn another for their incorrectness, but are not willing to condemn ourselves, are we not hypocrites? If we carelessly characterize a brother or sister as a liar, a false teacher, etc., because we disagree with him or her, have we not condemned ourselves if we happen to be incorrect on a particular topic?"

This brother has posed the "Sixty-four million dollar questions," and if one should assess the response to the first question as minimal, the dearth of responsible dialogue that was generated by these additional two was staggering, though not unexpected. This Oregonian has in very short order exposed the very heart of the problem with legalistic patternism. It is a system based upon human effort rather than divine beneficence. Salvation is conferred upon those who have all the right answers to all the right questions, and who do all the right things in all the right ways at all the right times. Righteousness is perceived, purely and simply, as being right in all things. If we can dot every "i" and cross every "t" -- if we can just present that "perfect paper" with no flaws -- we shall receive that coveted 100% on our final exam. Little wonder that some of the most miserable, unhappy, despairing, pathetic Christians on earth are to be found within the camp of the legalistic patternists! They live in constant doubt, never truly sure if they are saved or lost, because they are never truly sure if they have done enough to receive the crown of life. After all, 99% is a failing grade; only perfection will secure the desired result.

Some, of course, as seen in the response of the man from Tennessee, feel they have done enough. They declare themselves absolutely correct in all matters. They have achieved perfection in all areas of faith and practice. Well, they had better hope they are right, for Paul tells us that every man who seeks to be justified by meritorious works of law "is under obligation to keep the whole law" [Gal. 5:3]. To my knowledge, only Jesus pulled that one off, but maybe this gentleman from Tennessee has managed to equal that feat. Again, let's hope so ... for his sake. For, if he hasn't, he is doomed by his own system of salvation. What is truly tragic is that such people are deluded; they have embraced a lie. There are some who simply do not want to hear Truth, and will stop up their ears rather than listen. Believe me, I've encountered them. "For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false" [1 Thess. 2:11]. Such is the condition of those who dared to answer Yes to the first question. They have replaced God's grace and the shed blood of Jesus with their own preciseness of pattern and perfection of perception. They have cornered the market on correctness, and are relying upon this for salvation. In fact, they are willing to bet their life on it. May God awaken them to His grace before it is too late!!

For those who answered No to the first question posed by the brother from Oregon, but who still persist in condemning those who differ with them on a thousand and one petty points of personal or party preference and practice, they must face the very real specter of their own inconsistency, which will haunt them forever if they don't make some major attitudinal changes. If they admit that they are unwilling to bet their lives upon doctrinal preciseness, even perhaps acknowledging that they don't have all knowledge and understanding in all matters theological and Scriptural, and yet still believe themselves to be saved, then by what logic and authority do they grant themselves such a dispensation of grace, but refuse it to others?! If God can save me in all of my theological imperfection, what prevents Him from doing the same for others? Is such grace only for me?!

I appreciate so much the courage of this Christ-focused, grace-centered brother from the state of Oregon. He has taken the message of God's grace into the stronghold of legalistic patternism and is boldly challenging these factionists to simply think. I would love the opportunity to do the same, but have, as you know, been eternally banned from their presence by the little lords of the list. That is fine. Others are accomplishing the same work. In time, unfortunately, they too will be banned. And then the Lord will raise up others to bring His Word to those still open to honest reflection. There is no wall so high or thick, no fortress so impregnable, that God's Word can be kept out. Truth will prevail ... and may more and more precious souls, through such courageous efforts, be led from their bondage into the joys of freedom in Christ.

Reflections on CD
Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

by Al Maxey
Order Your Copy Today
Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Oregon:

Al, Thank you for taking on my question about expediencies [Issue #261]. It was very good and helpful. I always saw the inconsistencies. Everything that was agreed with was an "expediency." Everything that was not favored was "not authorized." I just finished reading your latest Reflections on foot washing. Interesting historical lessons here. Also, it was a great article on how we are to truly behave. I personally think that foot washing itself is just an expediency, while the humility that motivates it is what is commanded by Jesus.

From an Elder in Montana:

Al, Foot Washing! Wow! I remember as a youngster hearing folks talk about some groups that practiced foot washing and we would all snicker and laugh. If you want to trim down a church membership really fast, just start that practice and pretty soon you'll have no one!

From a New Reader in New Zealand:

Dear Brother Al, I am a minister of the Church of Christ in Marewa, Napier, New Zealand. Please put me on your e-mail list for your Reflections. Thanks and God Bless!

From an Elder in Arizona:

Bro. Al, I had to laugh about the violation of "pattern" for those who can't ingest food in a church building, but who can freely, without a second thought, egest food! Your so-called "ignorant" studies (as per the critic from Alabama) are "welcome lights" to many tired and discouraged people. I'm not one of those, although I used to be. You might encourage those weary souls to look around them. There just might be a loving, "free from LAW" Church of Christ group out there who have found their way to greater light and love. They shouldn't give up on us -- such "ornery" people are springing up all over the country!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I just wanted to comment on the statement made by the Alabama redneck (in your last "Readers' Reflections") who spoke of your knowledge of the Bible (or lack of it). I would like to meet him face to face and tell him of the glaring error of his ways! He knows not whereof he speaks! I could speak volumes to him by way of rebuttal, but he probably wouldn't care for the content, so will just say I feel truly sorry for him because of his ignorance, and just hope the Lord will forgive him. Also, thank you for your lesson on foot washing; you covered it really well. I will say it again and again -- Soldier on, dear brother!

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Dear Brother Al, It has been some time since I last communicated with you, not because I haven't enjoyed and learned from your writings, but I have just neglected emailing you. Your article on "foot washing" reminded me of an incident that took place years ago, when we were living in South Carolina, that I believe really and truly conveyed the meaning of Jesus' teaching in John 13:14-15. I went to the local hospital to visit a sister who was a patient, and upon entering the room witnessed another sister literally washing her feet. The ancestors of the second lady had been slaves a few generations before, but this sweet, kind lady was doing this lowly act of service to a sister whose ancestors could very well have owned slaves. She did what she did out of love for her sister in the Lord with no thought of family history or racial pride. I have often used this story as an illustration of what Jesus taught His disciples that night. I believe it is just such things as this that mark one as a hero of faith. Come to think of it, I have been the recipient of many such acts of "foot washing" in the form of numerous deeds of kindness done by generous, humble saints over the years! My best to you, brother!

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: