by Al Maxey

Issue #273 ------- November 3, 2006
There is no man so unsafe as he
that is too proud to be told truth,
or have his errors taken notice of.

Samuel Butler {1612-1680}

Case of the Senseless Census
A Reflective Analysis of David's Sin

Several weeks ago I received an email from a devoted minister of the gospel of Christ in the beautiful state of Georgia. In this message to me he presented an incident in the life of King David that he believed might possibly be a legitimate example of the validity of the so-called "law of silence" [that God's lack of instruction in some given area equates to a general prohibition]. This dear brother and fellow minister wrote --- "Bro. Maxey, I have been preaching for over 50 years, and have used the 'law of silence' as a valid argument. Your thoughts, and those of others, have caused me to do some serious rethinking! I thank you for your thoughts on Jesus using the four cups of wine at the Passover as it relates to this 'law of silence.' Just this past week I heard a radio sermon that brought to my mind the thought that the record of David numbering the Israelites could be one point that would re-enforce the 'law of silence.' Please check this out. Nowhere had David been forbidden to number the men, but when he did, it is referred to as sin. It was displeasing to God and brought His wrath. David did something without authority from God. Was that not the 'law of silence'? I know you do a good deal of studying, and so I thought you could give some consideration to this point. Thanks so much for your thought-provoking articles!"

The incident in the life of King David of which this brother from Georgia speaks is found in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. These passages, when compared with one another, pose some difficult textual problems, as they appear, at least at first glance, to be in major contradiction with one another on several key points. The numbers resulting from the census taken do not agree [in fact, they differ by hundreds of thousands]. With regard to the choices for the punishment to be inflicted, one account has three years of famine, the other has seven years. They do not even agree as to the source behind David's decision to take this census. One account seems to suggest it was God, the other says it was Satan. Scholars further disagree among themselves as to when this incident occurred, although most feel it probably took place near the end of David's reign. These biblical scholars also differ dramatically as to what motivated David to take this census, and thus there is some argument as to the actual nature of his sin. Thrown into all of this confusion is the added notion, proposed by some, that this may be a valid proof-text for the so-called "law of silence." Thus, as the reader can quickly perceive, any study of this census taken by David is going to pose some very real challenges to the interpreter.

The account begins with this statement (as seen from the two sources) -- "Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, 'Go, number Israel and Judah'" [2 Sam. 24:1, NKJV]. "Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel" [1 Chron. 21:1, NKJV]. The first problem before us is readily evident: Who moved David to take the census? God or Satan? If it was indeed the former, then why would He punish David and the people of Israel for doing what He Himself had motivated the king to do? Are we not informed in the NT writings that God tempts no man, but that "each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" [James 1:13-14]? Would God actually tempt, entice or motivate David to do that which displeased Him so much He would display His wrath by killing 70,000 of His chosen people? That seems unlikely, and yet is this not the implication of 2 Sam. 24:1 -- "He moved David"?

Interestingly, the personal pronoun "he" is not actually in the text of 2 Sam. 24:1. The choice of "he, she or it" is to be found in the verbal construction of the word "moved." Thus, there is some disagreement among scholars as to whether the subject of this verb is "the Lord" or "the anger" of the Lord. Which of the two "moved" David to take the census? Some feel it could just as justifiably be God's anger. If so, the wording would be "it moved David" [rather than "He moved David"]. Lest you think this far-fetched, you should know that some major translations of the Bible have opted for this rendering. For example, the NASB reads, "Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, 'Go, number Israel and Judah'" [2 Sam. 24:1]. This verse is rendered by the Holman Christian Standard Bible as follows: "The Lord's anger burned against Israel again, and it stirred up David against them to say, 'Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.'" The Living Bible takes a rather non-committal stance in the rendering: "Once again the anger of the Lord flared against Israel, and David was moved to harm them by taking a national census." Thus, Ken Taylor left the motivating force unspecified, merely noting that David "was moved," but choosing not to speculate by what or by whom.

If the catalyst for David's census was the anger of God [if "it moved David"], then this suggests to some scholars that David may have become distressed by the Lord's displeasure with Israel, and, fearing God would turn away from His people and/or bring some nation against them in punishment, David felt compelled to determine the strength of his military forces [this, after all, was the stated focus of his census: Joab brought back the numbers of those valiant men "who drew the sword" -- 2 Sam. 24:9; 1 Chron. 21:5]. Was it God Himself who motivated David to take such action? In my view, it was not. Rather, we find very clearly stated in 1 Chron. 21:1 that "Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel." Yes, God, as the Sovereign One, permitted Satan to place doubt within the heart of David, but God Himself tempts and entices no man to do that which is sinful in His sight. He tests us to prove our faith, but He does not tempt us to do evil. Such would be contrary to His nature. Further, if it had truly been God who had personally moved David to sin, then, as previously noted, how could God have been justified in bringing a harsh judgment against David and the people for performing that which He Himself caused him to do?! Such an interpretation, in my view, is entirely irrational and inconsistent with the nature of God as revealed throughout His inspired writings.

"Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel" [2 Sam. 24:1]. Scripture does not specify what exactly it was that generated the Lord's anger on this occasion, only that He was again angered by something Israel had done. Most scholars feel that the term "again" directs the reader of the biblical account backward in time to the events portrayed in 2 Sam. 21:1f. "This sounds very definitely like a reference to the famine which came in the days of David three years in a row when the Gibeonites called for vengeance" [Willard Winter, Studies in Samuel, p. 616]. "It is very probable that this chapter once stood in intimate connection with chap. 21, and that the famine therein described was followed by a pestilence, of which the blame largely rested upon David, though the sin punished by it was fully shared by the people" [Pulpit Commentary, vol. 4: 2nd Samuel, p. 594]. Dr. Charles Ellicott completely concurs: "The word 'again' in verse one clearly refers to chap. 21, and so places this after the three years' famine for the Gibeonites" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2: 2nd Samuel, p. 507]. "The anger of the Lord 'burned against' Israel, in this particular case because of an unspecified sin. That it did so once 'again' would appear from a literary standpoint to be a reflection on the earlier outbreak of divine wrath that brought about the three-year famine of 2 Sam. 21:1" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1095].

As might be expected, the anger of the Lord against Israel (whatever the specific sin or sins might have been) was a cause of great concern for King David. Indeed, it appears this concern over God's anger was an opening for Satan to begin placing doubts within the heart and mind of David. The land had already been experiencing a severe famine for years. What was next on God's list of miseries to inflict upon His people, and what could David do about this? It appears that, instead of leading his people in a national repentance, he chose to evaluate his human resources. Perhaps the solution to their problem was to be found in attacking other nations and taking their resources to alleviate the losses due to the famine. To accomplish this, David would need to know how many valiant men he had in the nation "who drew the sword." It is for this reason, most scholars feel, that David decided, in light of God's anger (again) against His people, to take a national census. In so doing, he turned to the wrong source for relief. This, in the view of most, was his sin, although many feel it may have simply been pride and a warring spirit that caused David to place more confidence in the army of Israel than the God of Israel. Perhaps this too was a factor in the choice David made.

We know that taking a census, in and of itself, was not sinful. In fact, there were counts made of the people both before and after this incident, and they were all conducted with God's approval. There was also no specification in the Law as to frequency and timing. Thus, the problem was not the census, but rather what motivated it. Indeed, "Exodus 30:11-16 makes the census of the Israelites a fixed part of the Law" [Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 228]. Some feel this passage may provide a clue as to the true nature of David's sin -- "When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them" [vs. 12]. It should be noticed here that the Lord God told Moses if this "ransom" (actually a form of tax for the tabernacle) was not collected, then the punishment would be a plague among the people. Some biblical scholars feel that since 70,000 died because of a pestilence or plague sent by God upon the land after David took his census [2 Sam. 24:15; 1 Chron. 21:14], perhaps David failed to collect this tabernacle tax as was commanded by God in the Law. This is the view of Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, who wrote, "Now king David was desirous to know how many ten thousands there were of the people, but forgot the commands of Moses, who told them beforehand, that if the multitude were numbered, they should pay half a shekel to God for every head" [Antiquities of the Jews, book 7, chapter 13, section 1].

In the second year after leaving Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, "Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel" [Numbers 1:2]. In Numbers 26, prior to entering the land of promise, God again instructs Moses to take a census [vs. 2]. We also find a census of those returning from the Babylonian captivity in Ezra 2. Interestingly, David's own son, Solomon, later "numbered all the aliens who were in the land of Israel, following the census which his father David had taken" [2 Chron. 2:17]. Odd that Solomon would do such a thing if it was the census itself that was the sin. It was not, however. There was nothing unlawful about taking a census. David's sin was to be found in what motivated him to take this census at this time. Therefore, it becomes quite apparent that the so-called "law of silence" is not even a consideration in this whole incident. This had nothing to do with violating some "lack of instruction" (silence), but is a sin of the heart. John Wesley, in the aforementioned sermon he preached in the year 1775, stated, with regard to census taking, "There is no express prohibition of it in any of the Scriptures which were then extant." Thus, Wesley concludes: "Did not the sin lie in the motive on which the thing was done?" I believe it did.

"Why was this census evil? Clearly it was for David's glory rather than for the Lord's, and this no doubt was part of its sinful character" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 628]. "There is nothing wrong in numbering a people, but David evidently numbered his people in order to revel in his strength" [Willard Winter, Studies in Samuel, p. 614]. "He was hardly so childish that he wanted to know the number simply for the sake of the knowledge. He had some end in mind which made the numbering wrong. Joab's strong objection to the numbering of the people arose from his perception of King David's motives" [ibid, p. 617]. David "must have desired to be fully acquainted with his defensive power and thus came to a place where he was trusting his own might and not leaning heavily upon the strength of God" [ibid, p. 618]. "The mere taking of a census in itself could not have been wrong, since it was provided for in the Law ... It must, then, plainly be sought in the motive of David. The whole connection shows that it was a military census" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2: 2nd Samuel, p. 507], and therefore reflects the fact that "David's humble dependence upon God" had been undermined by Satan. "A census was not in itself wrong. But on this occasion David seems to have ordered this because he was placing his trust in 'multiplied troops' rather than in the promises of God" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 407]. King David had forgotten the truth conveyed in Psalm 44:6 -- "For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me." The prophet Isaiah said, "Woe to those who ... rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!" [Isaiah 31:1].

To the credit of Joab, the commander of the Israeli army, he sought to dissuade David from his reckless course [2 Sam. 24:3; 1 Chron. 21:3]. "Why does my lord the king delight in this thing?" "Why should he bring guilt upon Israel?" "Joab was not a man moved by religious scruples, and his opposition must have been based on some other reason. ... His strong objection to the numbering of the people arose from his perception of David's motives" [Willard Winter, Studies in Samuel, p. 617]. "Joab observed in David a growing disposition towards despotism, and foresaw danger to the nation's liberty. There was festering in David's heart a thirst for war" [Pulpit Commentary, vol. 4: 2nd Samuel, p. 595]. However, "the king's word prevailed against Joab and against the commanders of the army" [2 Sam. 24:4]. Therefore, Joab did as he was commanded, but he "undertook the work unwillingly, and performed it imperfectly" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2: 2nd Samuel, p. 508]. For example, "he did not number Levi and Benjamin, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab" [1 Chron. 21:6]. Indeed, 1 Chron. 27:24 informs us that Joab "finished not" the task of the census; it was simply too distasteful to him.

"Now David's heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, 'I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have acted very foolishly'" [2 Sam. 24:10; 1 Chron. 21:8]. "David's own conscience was awakened ... and thus he confesses his sin, and prays for pardon. Still, it must be remembered that almost ten months had passed before David saw his sin" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2: 2nd Samuel, p. 509]. To his credit, however, this time he did not have to have a visit from a prophet of God to awaken him to his guilt, as occurred previously when Nathan was sent to rebuke him for his sin with Bathsheba and against Uriah [2 Samuel 11-12 -- by the way it was Joab who carried out David's order to have Uriah killed]. On this present occasion, David saw his own guilt, and then a prophet was sent to him from God to specify the nature of the punishment.

The next morning after his confession, God sent unto King David the prophet Gad. This prophet had first come to David's aid when David had fled from Saul in fear of his life [1 Sam. 22:5]. His ministry was to encourage David. It appears Gad remained an almost constant companion and advisor to David from that point on, and even became one of the three men who would later write the history of the king [1 Chron. 29:29]. Gad declared unto David, "Thus the Lord says, 'I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I may do to you'" [2 Sam. 24:12; 1 Chron. 21:10]. God offered David his choice of the following three punishments [which were among the "four severe judgments" of God listed in Ezekiel 14:21]:

  1. Three Years of Famine [1 Chron. 21:12]. In 2 Sam. 24:13 we are informed it is seven years of famine. Most scholars feel the difference in numbers can be explained by the fact that Israel had already been suffering a famine for three years when David took the census, and then it was almost another year (9 months, 20 days) before David repented and the choice of punishments was offered to him. Thus, four years of famine had already occurred in Israel; an additional three years of famine (as per the account in 1st Chronicles) would put the total years of famine at seven (as per the account in 2nd Samuel). If David had chosen three more years of famine, many in Israel would have suffered and died, but David, as king, would have had the resources to assure he continued to be well-provided for. Thus, such a punishment would not affect him as greatly as the people.

  2. Three Months being Pursued by Enemies [2 Sam. 24:13; 1 Chron. 21:12]. Although some in Israel would suffer as a result of these attacks, those in the military would be the ones who would suffer most. Again, the king would likely be spared by simply remaining secluded in his dwelling in Jerusalem.

  3. Three Days of Pestilence [2 Sam. 24:13; 1 Chron. 21:12]. "As the suggested periods decrease in length, the specific punishment linked with each period increases in severity" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1100]. David knew that he had to expose himself to the punishment as well as his people, and this punishment was the most likely to show no favoritism: striking rich and poor, young and old, king to slave.

In the first two options, the king knew that Israel would be at the mercy of men. If the punishment was famine, they would have to seek food from their neighbors, which could result in a hold over them. If he chose being pursued by the enemy, they were also at the mercy of men. Only by choosing the third punishment would the land be at the mercy of God alone, and David felt that to be their best option. "Then David said to Gad, 'I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man'" [2 Sam. 24:14; 1 Chron. 21:13]. "King David acted nobly in this business. Had he chosen war, his own personal safety was in no danger, because there was already an ordinance preventing him from going into battle. Had he chosen famine, his own wealth would have secured his and his own family's support. But he showed the greatness of his mind in choosing the pestilence, to the ravages of which both he himself and his household were exposed equally with the meanest of his subjects" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 2, p. 378]. David, the king, "chooses that form of punishment which seems to him most directly and immediately dependent upon God Himself, and from which his own royal position would afford him no immunity" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2: 2nd Samuel, p. 509]. The ancient Jewish rabbinic explanation agrees that this was clearly the reasoning of David: "If I choose famine the people will say that I chose something which will affect them and not me, for I shall be well supplied with food; if I choose war, they will say that the king is well protected; let me choose pestilence, before which all are equal."

"So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died" [2 Sam. 24:15]. "So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell" [1 Chron. 21:14]. Josephus greatly embellishes the account -- "Now, the miserable disease ... carried them off by ten thousand causes and occasions, which those that were afflicted could not understand; for one died upon the neck of another, and the terrible malady seized them before they were aware, and brought them to their end suddenly, some giving up the ghost immediately with very great pains and bitter grief; and some were worn away by their distempers, and had nothing remaining to be buried, but just as soon as ever they fell were entirely macerated; some were choked, and greatly lamented their case, as being also stricken with a sudden darkness; some there were who, as they were burying a relation, fell down dead, without finishing the rites of the funeral. Now there perished of this disease, which began with the morning, and lasted till the hour of dinner, seventy thousand" [Antiquities of the Jews, book 7, chapter 13, section 3].

Although God had specified there would be three days of pestilence, nevertheless He relented and ended the affliction of the land at the end of the first day. Thus, David was correct in trusting the nation to the mercy of God. "And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw and was sorry over the calamity, and He said to the destroying angel, 'It is enough; now relax your hand'" [1 Chron. 21:15; 2 Sam. 24:16]. "The plague began on the morning of its announcement by the prophet Gad and continued through that day, but the plague was stopped earlier than originally intended because God's mercy was poured out upon the people. The pestilence must have lasted to 'the appointed time' for evening prayers" [Willard Winter, Studies in Samuel, p. 624]. "It probably did not continue for the entire three days ... The Hebrew phrase rendered 'until the time designated' ('the appointed time') is understood to mean 'until noon' in the Septuagint and 'until the sixth hour' in the Syriac" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1100]. "The Hebrew probably means 'time of assembly,' which is generally understood to signify the time of the evening sacrifice; so the Chaldee understands it, and so also St. Jerome. This would reduce the time of the pestilence to a single day" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2: 2nd Samuel, p. 509]. A similar plague against the land had been "stayed" during the time of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar (who was one of the four sons of Aaron) -- Num. 25:7-8; Psalm 106:30. God relented, after 24,000 died, due to the action taken by Phinehas.

As David "beheld the angel striking down the people," he was again moved by the consequences his own sin was having upon the nation, which led him to utter this appeal to the Lord, "Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Thy hand be against me and against my father's house" [2 Sam. 24:17]. "Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. And David said to God, 'Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O Lord my God, please let Thy hand be against me and my father's household, but not against Thy people that they should be plagued'" [1 Chron. 21:16-17]. A similar attitude was taken by Moses [Exodus 32:32] and the apostle Paul [Romans 9:3]. As previously noted, God relented and spared the people further affliction. The Lord also, through Gad the prophet, informed David that he was to "erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite" [2 Sam. 24:18; 1 Chron. 21:18], which is where he had beheld the angel of the Lord preparing to strike Jerusalem.

"The threshing floor of Araunah was situated outside the city of Jerusalem on Mt. Moriah, a hill to the northeast of mount Zion. It was here that the temple was built later in the days of Solomon" [Willard Winter, Studies in Samuel, p. 625]. This was "the same site where Abraham once held a knife over his son Isaac -- Genesis 22:1-19" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1103]. Josephus wrote, "Now it happened that Abraham came and offered his son Isaac for a burnt-offering at that very place" [Antiquities of the Jews, book 7, chapter 14, section 3]. It was on one of these many series of hills that the Messiah would later shed His blood for the sins of mankind. Thus, this general area would long be regarded as a place of sacrifice unto the Lord God. When Araunah learned David's intent to make an offering on this site, which was owned by Araunah, he offered to give him, at no cost, the land, the animals for the sacrifice, and even the materials to construct the altar and the wood for the fire. However, in a statement that shows the depth of David's contrition and the character of this man after God's own heart, he replied, "No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing!" [2 Sam. 24:24]. "I will not take what is yours for the Lord, or offer a burnt offering which cost me nothing" [1 Chron. 21:24]. Thus, David purchased the site for "fifty shekels of silver" [2 Sam. 24:24]. 1 Chron. 21:25 says David paid 600 shekels of gold (most scholars feel the lesser amount may have been the price of the oxen, wood, and threshing floor, whereas the far greater price may have been for the entire hill area where the temple would be built). After the sacrifice, David said, "This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel" [1 Chron. 22:1]. In the verses that follow we find David making the initial plans and preparations to build the temple upon that site, a temple that Solomon would actually construct.

This is a fabulous account from which one may draw many different spiritual lessons and applications. It is a textually difficult passage in many ways, but these challenges to biblical scholars and interpreters in no way diminish the message from our Lord. The Lord God desires our hearts and minds to be focused upon Him, and His might, not upon the arm of flesh. We are to trust in Him, rather than in our own efforts. We also learn that even though His judgments can be harsh against those who turn from Him, His grace and mercy are abundant to those who repent. David was not a perfect man; he committed some horrible sins; yet he was a man who loved his God, and who was loved by his God. When David sinned, they were whoppers; when he repented, it was with all his heart and soul. Thus, years later, when David finally walked through the valley of the shadow of death, the Great Shepherd was there to lead him home to the green pastures. Praise God for His amazing grace!

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in Canada:

Dear Brother in Christ, I have just recently discovered your web site after reading your article "The Great Belly Button Debate" that appeared in the last issue of John Clayton's journal Does God Exist? I have already read a few of your Reflections. I am very interested in receiving your weekly articles, so would you kindly add my name to your mailing list? Thank you, and may God bless you abundantly in your continued devotion to Truth.

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Al, I just read your "Envisioning the Future" article that my husband forwarded to me. Wonderful!! Thank you! Please add me to your mailing list also.

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Maxey, Please add me to your list to receive Reflections. Our minister shared one of your articles with us and I was blessed by the reading! It made me think more deeply about my convictions as a Christian.

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Maxey, I read one of your Reflections articles this evening and my thinking has been enlightened. Thank you for that. I would appreciate being added to your mailing list.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Wow. Thanks so much for your writings, Bro. Al. You challenge and encourage me.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Bro. Al, I have written you several times to applaud your Reflections, and many times I have referred your articles to others, and have even had some of your articles forwarded to me by people who know me, but who do not know that I subscribe to them. I respect you highly, and admire your wisdom and diligence to the Word. I am amazed at the length of your lessons and your obvious endeavor to educate your fellow Christians.

From a Reader in Hawaii:

Al, Thanks so much for your latest Reflections article "Envisioning the Future." You stated very well what I feebly attempted to say in response to your special request. Al, you know the people here in Hawaii very well, thus you know that some will never leave the 50's church mentality. As a result, we have been losing numbers here, and do not have many of the youth left. We, as a whole in the islands, do not seem to be as active in change and outreach as we ought to be, and so we continue to dwindle. Your article makes me uncomfortable, because I know that I should be doing more than just showing up for weekly worship assemblies and Bible classes, and not much else.

From a Reader in Missouri:

Al, I enjoyed your last issue of Reflections very much!!! I believe your view of the future is so vital to those of us who make up the Churches of Christ. It also is so encouraging and exciting to read responses from those who were former Pharisee-like brethren (as I myself was), and those of the "patternistic mindset," and how study from a new perspective (though not changing any of the Word) has affected them. It says so much about their hearts/spirits that they're willing to change when they perceive the Truth.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Bro. Maxey, I am a member of the Church of Christ and eager to learn. While searching the Internet I came across two challenges by Baptists --- one by David Martin and the other by A. A. Davis. I then noticed you had responded to both of their challenges: Reflections #146 -- Challenge to Campbellite Preachers: 13 Questions They Cannot Answer and Reflections #207 -- Challenging the Campbellites: 101 Questions from a Baptist Pastor. To say that both of these men are vindictive and slanderous would be an understatement. I was literally appalled at their obvious hatred for those in Churches of Christ and their lack of tolerance for any view other than their own. Anyway, I know you are probably a very busy man, but I felt it necessary to let you know that I applaud your rational, intelligent, grammatically and biblically correct reply to these men, and to let you know that I support everything you said and the manner in which you responded to them. Thank you for your conviction and your courage! On those dark days when you might be tempted to think your refutation of the teaching of these men is not reaching anyone, please be assured that it is.

From a Reader in Montana:

Bro. Al, For some reason you hear very, very little, if anything, said about the Stone-Campbell Movement up in this part of the country, although I'm guessing it's still a strong subject down in the south where it's well-known. This movement, and the people behind it, no doubt had the best of intentions, but I believe it is now dead and should be buried. It is history. The only movement I see as necessary for the church today is moving back to what God wants. Certainly, the first thing that comes to mind in this regard is change. This is a most difficult challenge, and you know this best. People just don't want someone trying to move them out of their comfort zone. It's fight or flight for them, and fight they will do. They have their own version of what is right, and you had better not mess with it ... or else! I believe that we need to get back to praying more; seeking out what our God wants for us. I believe too many of our leaders have fallen down on this. For too long we, in Churches of Christ, have bashed our neighbors with the teaching that we are the "one and only" true church, and that all others are on the wide road to destruction. In this we have done damage to no one but ourselves.

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Bro. Al, Thank you so much for the insights you offered, and those you shared from your readers, in your Reflections article "Envisioning the Future." I could not help but think of Jesus' teaching that to have life we must die to ourselves. I believe that applies to us corporately as well as to us individually. I sensed that same conviction in several of the thoughts expressed by you and your readers. The statistics that have been reported on the decline of the Churches of Christ are very similar to those of other mainline denominations. Perhaps it is a wakeup call to all of us to look to the greater kingdom. I also appreciate the gentleman who asked, "If the church closed its doors tomorrow, would anyone notice?" Unfortunately, many congregations of the Churches of Christ were established out of the belief that we are the only "true church," and thus we must "convert" all the denominationalists. One additional comment -- For much too long we were far more concerned about losing our youth to the "denominations" than to the world. Now we are coming to realize we were concerned about the wrong enemy. By the way, other denominational groups are realizing the very same thing. While all of the various denominations have been fighting each other, Satan has been destroying us all. Bless you, brother!

From an Elder in Florida:

Bro. Al, I am on a good many Internet/email discussion lists, and one of the things I notice a lot is requests like this one: "I'll be traveling to ------; does anyone know of a 'sound' congregation in that area where we can worship?" Although it is certainly very commendable to look for a place to worship while traveling, I'm amazed at these requests, in that they specify a "sound" congregation. They never ask if anyone knows of "Christian brethren" worshipping in a given area; they only want to know if there are those of their particular persuasion. I guess we all need to get out our "list" of patterns (oops, I forgot -- what list? -- they refuse to provide one) and see if their list matches our list before we can determine "soundness." Let's see ... would that be "sound" = no Bible classes? "Sound" = no paid preacher? "Sound" = only one cup? "Sound" = King James Version only? etc., etc., ad infinitum.

From a Doctor in Alabama:

Hey Al, I was just reading about the Protestant Reformation, and I came across a statement that claimed that "John Calvin maintained that whatever church practice was not commanded by Holy Scripture was forbidden, whereas for Martin Luther it was permitted but could not be required." I wonder if those within the Churches of Christ who preach the so-called "Law of Silence" realize that they are teaching a "Calvinistic" doctrine?!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, It has been a while since I last wrote to you, but I wanted to take a minute to tell you just how much I have enjoyed your last several Reflections; most especially the ones concerning the "law of silence." This is something that has troubled me for years. Just who is to say that because God is silent on a matter that this means He always prohibits rather than permits? If I don't tell my children anything specifically, one way or the other, about something, then why would they understand my utter silence to prohibit them from doing it? If God is going to condemn us to hell for doing or for not doing something, don't you think He would have made such things very clear to us, rather than saying nothing about them and leaving us to decipher the meaning of His complete lack of any instruction one way or the other? Al, thanks again for all you do, and may you have a blessed day!

From a Minister in Missouri:

Dear Brother Al, In your Reflections article "Envisioning the Future," you quoted a minister from California who stated, "If we are smart in our movement, we will start providing outlets for our young people to experience Christ in a personally powerful way." Bro. Al, I certainly believe the truth of that statement. I have three teenagers who have grown up in a dead one-cup, non-Sunday school, anti-everything system. I really need to know what those "outlets" are that we can provide for our young people "to experience Christ in a personally powerful way." Perhaps you can invite your readers to respond; I need some answers right now! Bro. Al, while my children never really embraced the legalistic death-grip of the one-cup, anti-everything movement, it is still very critical, now that I am no longer a part of that movement, that I try and replace this poison to which they were exposed with something more spiritually positive. I need your help, brother! Also, thank you so much for your article "Envisioning the Future." I plan to print it out, make copies, and hand-deliver it to people in our area who do not have email. At the end of December I plan to order all of your CD's [your 4th Reflections CD should be done by then]. Brother, these are priceless jewels, and I will be studying them for the rest of my life.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Pastor Maxey, I just had to share this with you --- I sat through a "lesson" on Sunday that was not one bit praiseful, but rather was very judgmental and condemning throughout. And this sermon was entirely about YOU. My heart is so saddened. My husband grew up in this church, and he feels saddened as well. Please pray for this congregation!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I have just finished reading your Reflections article about the future of the Churches of Christ. I wasn't born or raised into this tradition, so my thinking hasn't always been like those who have spent their whole lives in this tradition. Here is my problem, with which I personally struggle -- I am embarrassed to tell people that I attend a Church of Christ. I try very, very hard not to let my embarrassment keep me from sharing with others who I am in Jesus, but I really have trouble with this "old thinking" (and I'm about to turn 70) that we are the ONLY ones who are going to Heaven. Nevertheless, I will keep on sharing the love, grace and forgiveness that is mine through Jesus' blood -- sometimes in embarrassment, sometimes without. I thank God for you, Al, and for your willingness to be His spokesman!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Al, You mentioned in an earlier issue of Reflections that you would send the two documents "Reasons for the Decline" and "Solutions to the Decline" (as MS Word docs) to interested parties who requested them. I would be interested in reading them. Our congregation has been at the same size, maybe even a little smaller, for the last 20 years. When I spoke to the elders individually about this I later received a letter from them saying, "Thanks for your concern, but your opinions are disturbing others. So, please keep them to yourself. Ask no more questions!" At any rate, I would like to get a copy of the above mentioned documents.

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