by Al Maxey

Issue #269a ------- October 12, 2006
Write while the heat is in you.
Henry David Thoreau {1817-1862}

Response to Phil Sanders
Reflective Analysis of a Blog Posting

In Issue #269 of my weekly Reflections -- Shouting Above the Silence -- I shared a letter I had written to Bro. Phil Sanders, who was one of the writers featured in the October issue of The Spiritual Sword. That email was sent to Phil on September 30, and at "press time" for my review of the above periodical I had still received not a single word from him in response to my challenging question. After my article went out he began to receive some pressure from my readers to respond -- a doctor from Kentucky, for example, really held his feet to the fire to provide some kind of response. I had tried, after sending out my article, but was not really getting anywhere with him. He wrote me saying, "I am quite busy at the present," and he also suggested that my writings "reflect far more eisegesis from history than good biblical scholarship." In other words, he was extremely reluctant to address the pointed question I had posed to him in my review. It appears the increasing pressure by others, however, eventually won out. Although Bro. Sanders never sent a response to me personally, I was informed by the doctor from Kentucky that Phil had posted a response of sorts to his blog page.

This current issue of my Reflections will be a special edition solely for the purpose of providing my response to his response. Since I had issued a challenge to Phil in my previous article, I felt it only fair to inform the readers that he had finally responded, the nature of that response, and my own thoughts with respect to his. Thus, before you read any further in this article, I would plead with you to please take a moment to read not only my challenge to Phil (which may be examined in Issue #269 of my Reflections), but also read his response, which may be found on his blog site --- -- The title of the article is "Roast Lamb and Four Cups of Wine" [Wednesday, October 11, 2006]. After reading both, I would simply ask each of you to decide for yourself if Phil adequately answered my question. My impression as to whether he did or not is found below!

Phil began his blog post with these words: "Apparently my article in the October 2006 issue of the Spiritual Sword struck a nerve with some who are sold on getting the instrument into the church and who oppose the idea of prohibitive silence. One brother has challenged me personally to answer his hobby argument. For some time he has talked loud and long about the four cups of wine that were compulsory for Jews to drink at the Passover feast." First, as just an observation regarding our differing approaches, Phil never identified this "brother" in his article other than to refer to him as "the critic." He also never provided any link for his readers to the actual question I had previously posed to him. Therefore, Phil provides no context for his readers to assess the adequacy (or inadequacy) of his response. I, on the other hand, have provided my readers with the location for the material I have reviewed, how to acquire it, and have even pleaded with them to examine that material prior to reading my own comments. I regard this approach as far more "fair and balanced."

Bro. Sanders has also employed what is known as an ad hominem argument at the very outset of his blog post. This is a very common tactic in debate, usually employed when one's own position is perceived to be weaker than that of one's opponent. It is also known as "argumentum ad hominem," which is a Latin phrase literally signifying: "argument against the person." In other words, in order to prejudice one's hearers against a particular message with which one disagrees, but which one may have trouble refuting in a reasoned debate or dialogue, the effort is made to discredit the messenger instead. The basic form these ad hominem arguments take is illustrated in the following generic syllogism:

Phil has confidently asserted that I am "sold on getting the instrument into the church." I'm not really sure just how Phil arrived at that particular conclusion, but let me assure him that this is NOT my motivation. Indeed, my own personal preference, and I have asserted this repeatedly over the years, is for a cappella expressions of praise and devotion. I have no desire whatsoever to introduce instrumental accompaniment into the church; nor do I have any desire whatsoever to condemn those who choose to use it. Phil further asserted that I "oppose the idea of prohibitive silence." In point of fact, and I have stated this repeatedly as well, I oppose the idea of both prohibitive and permissive imposition upon true silence. I believe both are abuses. In other words, I do not believe mere men have the right to impose their assumptions, deductions and preferences upon others in the face of an absolute, utter lack of biblical instruction. If God Himself has said nothing, it is not man's place to either prescribe or proscribe. We may form personal convictions, guided by divine principles, but we may NOT bind them as law upon our brethren.

Phil additionally suggested I have "for some time talked loud and long about the four cups of wine," characterizing this as my "hobby argument." Actually, I rarely bring this illustration up, but did present this to Phil's view in my email to him since he himself in his article for The Spiritual Sword had referred to "roast lamb" during the Passover. Therefore, in keeping with his illustration of the Passover, I brought up the cups of wine. I did a Reflections article on these four cups of wine in February, 2003 [Issue #14], and alluded to them again, only in passing, in August, 2004 [Issue #138], but would hardly characterize these two instances as constituting a "hobby" about which I have "talked loud and long." This, again, is simply an ad hominem approach to debate, and most learned and experienced disciples see through it rather quickly. Some don't, however, so it can be effective in neutralizing an opponent and the force of his argument.

Let me compliment, and even applaud, Bro. Sanders for several of his comments and insights within his blog post. Phil stressed time and again, and I concur completely, that Jesus spent His ministry in opposition to the Pharisaic mindset that sought to bind human traditions and customs upon others as divine decree. "Jesus was not a Pharisee," wrote Phil. Amen to that! He went on to observe that, with regard to the ritual of hand-washing, "Jesus did not bind Himself with the self-made religion of the Pharisees." That is correct. Phil continued: "Jesus did not give in to their human, legalistic laws related to the Sabbath. Jesus was hated by the Pharisees because He refused to play their legalistic games." Again, I agree 100%. "All evidence points to His opposition to their presumptuous practices. He condemned their kind of judging." Hey, this all sounds like it could have been written by me!! "The Pharisees were involved in going beyond the instructions to make their own laws and rituals." That's right. They imposed their own will upon God's silence! They inserted countless "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" laws into the gaps left by God's total lack of specification and instruction. Jesus refused to be bound by such human decrees. Just as I refuse to be bound by such today! Phil concluded his article with this marvelous statement: "Jesus separated traditions of men from the word of God. He did not confuse them." Amen!

Yes, Bro. Sanders makes some excellent points, but then he draws some erroneous conclusions. For example, he wrote, "Interestingly, our critic, in order to promote his views of silence, makes Jesus subject to their (the Pharisees') legalism." Oh, really?! Such a statement simply shows that Phil has no real comprehension of Al Maxey's "view of silence." He has additionally failed to perceive the motivation and extent of our Lord's resistance to, and at times compliance with, Jewish tradition and custom. Phil's assumption is that if Jesus accepted the use of four cups of wine in the Passover celebration then He had thereby bound Himself to the salvific whims of these legalists and separatists. That assumes too much, however. One can, and many often do, follow a custom without regarding themselves as bound to such. For example, Paul was not bound to the rite of circumcision, yet on occasion he practiced it (as when he had Timothy circumcised -- Acts 16:3); other times he refused (as with Titus -- Gal. 2:3). To engage in a practice does NOT necessarily imply one is bound to it. I would encourage the readers to carefully examine Reflections #166 where I dealt with another example [Acts 21:17f] of this reality from the life and ministry of the apostle Paul.

Jesus participated in the synagogue system, by way of yet another example, "as was His custom" [Luke 4:16]. Yet, the OT Scriptures are completely silent with regard to a synagogue system. If biblical silence equates to prohibition, then do we have Jesus engaging in a system that is "unauthorized"? The legalistic patternists contend that to do such is SIN. Did Jesus sin? Had Jesus become bound to human innovation in direct opposition to the "law of silence"? For those interested, I deal with the whole "silence and the synagogue" matter in the following Reflections --- Issues #13 and #124. The simple reality is: there were times Jesus followed Jewish custom, and there were times He clearly did not. The same was true of the apostle Paul. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't. What made the difference? The answer is quite simple -- when the legalists sought to bind some custom as a condition of salvation, both Jesus and Paul made a point of breaking with such tradition. However, both realized that these many traditions and customs were harmless and innocent in themselves, and that sometimes observing them actually opened doors of opportunity [1 Cor. 9:19-23]. In other words, there was nothing wrong with engaging in them, or even enjoying them, as long as one perceived the distinction between human tradition and divine Truth. The problem with the Pharisees is that this distinction had become blurred, and they were seeking to bind as divine LAW that which had human origin. Both Jesus and Paul refused to allow themselves to be BOUND to such for purposes of justification and salvation, but such focused refusal in no way prevented them from a responsible exercise of freedom in their practice of such traditions when they so desired. When something is neither prescribed nor proscribed by God Himself in His inspired writings, it becomes a matter of personal preference. Thus, there were times when our Lord embraced certain traditions, and there were times when He shunned them. The latter was largely done when others sought to BIND Him to some practice. He would have none of it. Or, to phrase it as Paul did -- "We did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour" [Gal. 2:5].

Yes, the four cups of wine in the Passover celebration were regarded by the Jewish leaders of our Lord's day as compulsory. The legalists of His day had indeed placed great spiritual significance upon these four cups, even linking them to a passage in the book of Exodus. Did Jesus place such spiritual significance upon the cups? We're not told. He certainly must have been aware of that significance, but He may well have simply embraced the custom without regarding it as in any way linked to one's approval and/or acceptability in the eyes of the Father. Perhaps Jesus viewed "silence" as Al Maxey views "silence" -- genuine biblical silence being neither prescriptive nor proscriptive, but rather an area wherein one is simply left to one's best judgment in light of the greater guiding principles of God's Word. Thus, Jesus was free to employ the practice whenever He saw fit, or to reject it altogether. It appears He chose the former path. Such does not, however, suggest our Lord was bound to it as one is bound to LAW. Quite the opposite. Thus, once again, Phil's statement, "Our critic, in order to promote his views of silence, makes Jesus subject to their (the Pharisees') legalism," is erroneous. My view of silence does no such thing; in fact, it does just the reverse.

However, Phil seems to overlook the reality that the Passover is far from an ordinary meal among the Jewish people, even if the occasion is a formal one. This was the Passover feast, and God had carefully prescribed the particulars of this meal, not only what was to be eaten, but when, where, why, and by whom. The reality which Phil cannot deny (and which was the point of my original question to him) is that the OT Scriptures are completely, totally, utterly, absolutely SILENT with respect to anything to drink (both by command and example) during the observance of the Jewish Passover, and this is especially true with respect to four cups of wine. Phil is forced to admit that the addition of these cups of wine to the Passover meal is an innovation of men. That is simply a fact. My question, therefore, which Phil Sanders has still NEVER ANSWERED, is simply this --- IF the silence of the Scriptures is prohibitive, as Phil claims, are the four cups of wine thereby prohibited from association with the Passover meal? Yes or No? Which is it? And IF men choose to ADD these cups of wine to the Passover feast, an addition about which the Word of God is totally silent, is such addition in the face of biblical silence a SIN? Yes or No? Which is it? Your answers will prove most revealing with respect to your consistency of teaching (or lack thereof) with respect to this so-called "law of silence" and its prohibitive force.

Let's face it, brethren, Phil Sanders has danced all around this question, but he has never answered it. And I think the reason is fairly obvious. If he answers Yes to the above two questions, then Jesus is indicted. And yet, Phil certainly doesn't dare suggest such additions simply don't matter, because then he loses his authority for condemning instrumental music as an "unauthorized addition" (as well as a host of other "godless innovations" these brethren seek to forever prohibit by the exclusionary force of their "law of silence"). The loophole Phil believes he has found to this dilemma, however, is in the suggestion that Jesus, and I suppose he would include others in this as well, was free to use the cups of wine in the Passover feast as long as He attached no spiritual significance to their use. Bro. Sanders wrote, "But having a beverage to drink at a formal meal, a beverage that did not have a religious significance, is no different than having lights or having cushions." Later he wrote, "There is no evidence that Jesus gave any religious significance to the Passover wine." Is Phil really suggesting here that we may all acceptably ADD TO God's specifics in some matter as long as we don't attach undue spiritual significance to said additions? IF this is what Phil is suggesting, then may I suggest that he has just opened Pandora's box and released the contents upon the legalistic patternists!! I'm not sure Phil and his friends really want to go where that premise will ultimately lead them.

Let me ask Phil this question --- If I attach no spiritual significance to a piano playing in the corner as I sing praises to my God, does that instrument thereby become acceptable in our Sunday morning assembly (if the others present also attach no spiritual significance to it)? If we regard this addition as just an aid, or an incidental, like the trays used on the Lord's table to hold the cups and the unleavened bread, with no spiritual significance attached, may we then use it acceptably? If not, why not? If the ultimate qualifier is "not attaching spiritual or religious significance" to that which is an addition of men to the silence of God, then may we not acceptably incorporate musical instruments if our focus falls within the parameters of that qualifier? If not, why not? These are challenging questions I firmly believe Phil is NOT going to be able to answer in such a way as to preserve his doctrine of exclusion based upon the "law of silence." These are challenges that defeat his doctrine!

Bro. Sanders' entire argument in his article in The Spiritual Sword was that a person who "respects the authority of God's Word" would vehemently object to roast lamb on the Lord's Table during the Lord's Supper because the NT Scriptures are SILENT with regard to such appearing on that table. Thus, silence prohibits. This is their teaching. My whole challenge was centered around taking that very same reasoning and simply applying it to the cups of wine used at the Jewish table during the Passover feast. IF this so-called "law of silence" is truly valid as an interpretive device for establishing authority, and IF it is prohibitive by nature, as its proponents assert, then it ought to be just as equally valid for one scenario as for the other, regardless of the covenant under which that scenario falls.

Brethren, Phil Sanders has done a masterful job of waffling ... but, he has not answered the question I posed to him. He has avoided it. In my view, this speaks volumes as to the validity of this doctrine he so forcefully espouses, but so pitifully defends. I pray that all of you will give this matter some careful and prayerful consideration, for I believe this "law of silence" is fallacious, and that it is one of the primary interpretive tools Satan has used, and still uses successfully, to dismember the One Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is time for discerning disciples to discard this devilish device ... and the sooner the better. Our unity in One Family quite literally depends upon it.

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