by Al Maxey

Issue #280 ------- December 19, 2006
His faith, perhaps, in some nice
tenets might be wrong; his life,
I'm sure, was in the right.

Abraham Cowley {1618-1667}

The Great Grape Gripe
Cup Content Contention

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) made the following observation with regard to the legendary Alexander Pope (1688-1744), "A thousand years may elapse before there shall appear another man with a power of versification equal to that of Pope." He just may be right! Pope penned some powerfully insightful verse. Let me share just a small passage from his noted work "An Essay on Man," which appeared just a decade prior to his death:

For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight;
His can't be wrong whose life is in the right.
In faith and hope the world will disagree,
But all mankind's concern is charity.

Would the person who has perfectly perceived every single tenet of Christian precept and practice please contact me! I would dearly love to touch the hem of his/her garment. My guess is, however, that none of you will be calling me any time soon. The reality is -- we are all less than perfect in our understanding and application of eternal Truths. Thus, each of us is "in error" on any number of matters, and most likely we don't even realize it. We strive to the best of our individual abilities to live as He would have us live, and to grasp His divine principles. In the end, though, we all fall far short of where we need to be ... and certainly of where we would like to be. Thank God for Grace.

It has always been somewhat disconcerting to me to know that there are those within Christendom who seemingly rely upon perfection of perception and practice for their justification and salvation. If we can all just "get it right" in our journey to heaven, we shall be found worthy to enter that eternal realm. Fail to "get it right," however, and the price is forfeiture of eternal life. Hell is for those who don't get the music right in the worship assembly ... hell is for those who don't use the church "treasury" correctly ... hell is for those who have Sunday schools ... hell is for those who eat in a church building ... hell is for those who ______ (well, you fill in the blank).

This whole pitiful, pathetic mindset was brought home to me rather dramatically less than two weeks ago, and it still saddens me to realize I witnessed such pathological obsession right before my astonished eyes. I'm also somewhat amazed at myself, and my reaction (I was rendered almost speechless), because I have been confronting such obstinate Pharisaism for decades. It is certainly not unknown to me. But, to be perfectly honest, I had never, in all my many years of opposing this very extreme doctrinal stance, actually witnessed in my very presence such a powerful embodiment of it. Frankly, it was a bit unnerving!

A couple of weeks ago a man who hails most recently from Arkansas (the land of my birth) arrived here in our community. I have known for almost a year that he was coming, as he had informed me of such. To say that he disapproves of my ministry is probably one of the great understatements of the year! Indeed, six months ago he mailed a massive packet of materials to each of the members of the congregation where I serve (although he did not send this packet to the elders, deacons, or ministers), informing them, and seeking to prove to them, that I was a "false teacher." I had been informed since then that he was not through with me, but would be moving here to deal with me in my own backyard! He is now here. This individual is a 1989 graduate of the infamous Memphis School of Preaching, many of the leaders of which (including the prior Director, Curtis Cates) have for years been quite vocal in their opposition to my so-called "false teaching." Curtis even devoted a portion of one of his books to me a few years back, lumping me in-between such "apostates" as Rubel Shelly and Max Lucado. Thus, I am not surprised that a graduate of this institution of indoctrination would have his sights set on me.

Nevertheless, I was determined to take the "high road." On Saturday, December 9th (the day before the very first assembly of their new congregation: about 10 people who meet in the front of a self-storage facility about three blocks from our building), I happened to see a car parked in front of their meeting place, noticed it had Arkansas tags, and decided to pull in and introduce myself. I knocked on the door, he opened it, and I told him who I was and said that I wanted to drop by and welcome him to our city. He wandered off carrying a small trash can, seemingly reluctant to acknowledge my presence. I said perhaps he and I could get together and visit sometime; get to know one another better. That's when he turned to me and demanded, "Before we do, I want you to give me book, chapter and verse where you are authorized to have watermelon juice on the Lord's Table!!" I was stunned! I have since thought of countless things I could have said, and should have said, in response, but to my chagrin I must admit I just stood there somewhat dumbfounded. The conclusion he drew, of course, and he declared such to me, was: "So, you don't believe in Bible authority!!" The assumption, I suppose, is: if one can't come up with book, chapter and verse for each and every item of faith and practice, then one apparently does not believe in "Bible authority." Well, the whole experience took less than two minutes, but I still have a bad taste in my mouth from that initial encounter.

I have thought a lot about that meeting in the days since. Was I wrong to have tried to extend a welcome to him? Was I wrong to have left without engaging in a long, drawn out debate over watermelon juice? I am convinced the answer to both is No, and yet it grieves me to see within our community (and, yes, in virtually every community) bands of disciples just blocks from one another and so at odds with one another. This is not what our Lord prayed for in John 17. I fear a good many of us will have much to answer for one day if we don't begin to break down these walls of isolation and exclusion built upon little more than personal and party preferences, practices and perceptions. Frankly, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves! What a pathetic witness to our communities!

But, what about this demand for biblical authority for the use of watermelon juice in our observance of the Lord's Supper? I'll have to admit, I'm somewhat at a loss as to the purpose of such a question directed toward me, as I have never observed the communion with watermelon juice. I have never even advocated the use of watermelon juice. Yes, it is red in color. Yes, it is a "fruit of the vine." But, so is a strawberry. So also is a tomato. I've never advocated their use either. I went back and studied again one of my early issues of Reflections titled Substitution In The Supper: May We Replace The Elements? [June 30, 2003 -- Issue #50], thinking perhaps I had written something in that article that would have confused this individual. However, my statements in that article were quite clear, I believe. Notice the following excerpts taken from that study:

Does the above (which came from my own pen) sound like the teaching of one who is attempting to introduce watermelon wine into the observance of the Lord's Supper?! I think not. Having said that, let's at least be honest enough students of the inspired Scriptures to acknowledge some obvious truths. For one, there is just as much "book, chapter and verse" for grape juice in the cup on the Lord's Table as there is for watermelon or strawberry or any other kind of "fruit of the vine." There is not a single passage in the NT writings that specifies the contents of the cup must come from a grape. Indeed, there is not a single passage in the OT writings that specifies the contents of the cup used in the Passover must be from a grape. Further, there is not even a single passage in the OT writings that authorizes four cups of wine to be used within the Passover meal. The reality is, even though some are reluctant to admit it: these cups of wine were the innovation of the ancient Jewish rabbis. The four cups of wine came from men, not from God [see: Reflections #14 -- The "Law of Silence" and the Four Cups of Wine]. Thus, not only is the content of the cup not specified in Scripture, neither is the cup itself specified as an "authorized" addition to the Passover.

Yes, I believe we can rightly infer that the contents of these four cups were red wine made from grapes. Extra-biblical sources make that abundantly clear. Nevertheless, although such an assumption is a fair one, we must admit that there is NO "book, chapter and verse" for grape juice/wine in the cup. We may certainly deduce this to be true (and I think rightly so), but no man can provide a passage that actually declares it. This being the case, I personally don't believe we can elevate the nature of the cup contents to the level of eternal, binding LAW. No divine law may be established solely upon the foundation of a human assumption. Also, we must always allow for the introduction of God's grace into special circumstances where a commonly accepted tradition may be beyond the ability of some to practice. For example, consider the following (which is again taken from the above referenced Issue #50):

Thus, I believe it is at least advisable to utilize those emblems selected by Jesus (as best we can infer their true nature) if said emblems are readily available to us. However, since nowhere is the exact nature of the contents of the cup ever specified or commanded, space is clearly left unto us for valid exceptions. Thus, we might well say that in some situations it is Grace over Grape; the fruit of the Spirit over the fruit of the vine! God judges the content of our heart, not the content of our cup! Thus, if the situation arose where I was among disciples who had no access to grapes, but did have access to watermelons, and they chose to take this alternate "fruit of the vine" to produce a red colored juice to represent the shed blood of Christ, I would not hesitate for a second to observe this memorial meal with this other "fruit of the vine." And, frankly, I don't think my Lord would be in the least offended by my action. In fact, I believe He would be offended if I refused.

Brethren, carefully consider this --- if more people truly comprehended the nature of the fruit of the Spirit, perhaps we would experience less conflict over the nature of the fruit of the vine!! If more people truly grasped the nature of the "Bread of Life" which has come down from Heaven [John 6], perhaps we would experience less debate over the nature of the bread upon the Lord's Table. How sad that the Lord's Supper, which, in part, was designed to celebrate our oneness in Christ, has become the occasion of a "food fight" between siblings at the Father's table! Shameful. "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread" [1 Cor. 10:16-17]. Brethren, let us reflect on these things, and then let's start behaving like that blessed One Body our Lord Jesus shed His blood to establish. We are Family; it's time we started acting like it.

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 California:

Al, When the new Reflections CD is ready, would you please send me all four volumes of your Reflections on CD and also a copy of your book Down, But Not Out (a signed copy, of course!!). Thanks!

From an Elder in Texas:

Bro. Al, Dr. --------- and I worship together, and he informed me (after recently visiting your congregation and meeting with you) that a legalistic minister was moving to your city to combat what this minister apparently believes to be your "heretical" ministry. In the end, it won't work! Such people, although they are still my brethren, are continuing to lose their flocks to God's liberating gospel of grace. Those who oppose you (and who would oppose me, for that matter, as an elder who agrees with you) are continuing to see their flocks shrink, for they cannot offer the hopeful message of grace that you offer. Law & Works, in the end, will always lose to Grace & Faith (which you teach and write about so ably). I will pray for you and your ministry. Standing firm for Truth, as you well know, is not done without pain -- the greatest of which quite often comes from our own "brethren." Al, as our dear brother Leroy Garrett would say, "Soldier On!"

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, Thank you for all of your enlightening articles! I can never thank you enough for helping me get out of legalism! I hope you and your family will have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year!

From a Pastor in California:

Al, The response in last issue's readers' section from the One Cup minister and his wife in Missouri is thrilling to me! ... and I'm just a by-stander, outside of the Churches of Christ, observing the results of your Reflections ministry. I have to believe that responses like this one make all your grace-based efforts well worth it. God bless you, Al, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

From an Elder in Colorado:

Brother Al, I just finished reading your latest Reflections -- "The Tears of Jesus." Once again, you sent a great article. Thanks also for adding that web link to our "Santa Breakfast." By the way, the "Santa" in those photos is me. This event was a great success this year! There were several families who attended for the first time, and the next day, at our regular worship service, at least one of those families came back for a visit, and they were impressed with the love we show to our visitors. The "Santa Breakfast" planted a seed of interest, and perhaps the love of our Lord will cause it to grow. That seed would not have been planted had it not been for this breakfast. We are now conducting a Christmas Eve service as another outreach. It too has been well-attended in the past, and several families have returned year after year. When people are thinking about Christ, in any way or at any time, we need to act on it.

From a Minister in India:

Beloved Brother, Thank you very much for your article on 1 Timothy 2:15. It was an excellent presentation, and I agree with you. You wrote it in a very simple and balanced manner. Indeed, I have been struggling with this verse for the last 30 years!! You did a wonderful job!

From a Reader in [Identity Protected]:

Brother Al, Were you aware that the owners of MarsList have now banned all their members from ever mentioning you or anything you have written? One poor guy is being told he will be thrown from this group if he doesn't apologize to the other members for quoting you. Some of those members who have vocally supported you are even being tracked down (where they live, where they worship, where they work, names of family members), and I can only imagine what they plan to do with this information. Al, this frightens me. These men who run this group are becoming more controlling and more vicious by the day. Many members of that group are even afraid to post messages on there for fear their congregations will be contacted and their reputations destroyed. A number of members have left in protest. I fear where this is heading!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, As usual, I am really enjoying your Reflections articles. Our brethren in Kenya are still on board with them as well. Al, I have a question. In Acts 2, the phrase "the apostles' doctrine" is mentioned as being something the disciples "continued in." Obviously, the apostle Paul had not yet come on the scene, therefore none of his writings would have been available. In your opinion, just what did these apostles teach as doctrine? Were their teachings only about their experiences with Jesus? Thanks!

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, I really enjoyed your Reflections article on the tears of Jesus. I'm not a Greek scholar, but I personally interpret Jesus' tears in response to the grief of Mary, Martha, and their friends as being tears of frustration. I can certainly imagine Jesus being frustrated at the unfairness of death. While Jesus knew that Lazarus would be raised from the dead, He also knew that this death/mourning scene was being, and would be, played out every day throughout the world. His anger over Satan's hold over this world, and the separation of loved ones that death brings, would certainly bring angry frustration to our loving Christ. This passage is, in my mind, one of the most beautiful illustrations of the combined humanity and divinity of our Lord and Savior in the whole Word of God.

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Dear Bro. Al, It's difficult to put into words just how much your articles have meant to me. I truly enjoy and cherish each of your Reflections. I've been going through a personal "wilderness wandering" for so long now that I've almost forgotten the joy of Bible study and worship. It has been absent from my ministry and my spiritual life due to my having to deal with legalists in my congregation. I have the backing of my elders, but those members who feel uniformity equals unity, and therefore diversity equals eternal damnation, are sooooo terribly repressive. I don't believe I could ever preach in a "Church of Christ" again after this experience.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Al, I live in Huntsville, Alabama and just want to say how thankful I am to have discovered your web site. I had always been puzzled by Jephthah's vow in Judges 11 until God led me to your Reflections article [Issue #224] after I had prayed for understanding. You clearly organized all the arguments for the many different viewpoints, and then you provided an acceptable solution. Thank you.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Brother Al, LOL ... LOL ... LOL. I just finished reading the first three chapters of your work titled The Adventures of Warrior Willie, which you had tucked away at the bottom of your Reflections archives page! Now, just who "woudda thunk" you had a creative writing streak?!! I just love it! Waiting for another chapter! I myself am a writer, and have had some acclaim with my poems appearing in different Christian publications, and some have even been set to music. One of the things I learned in critique sessions, as part of various writers groups to which I belonged, was that a writer is to evoke emotions; regardless of the emotion. Anyway, just thought you'd like to know that you did well in that respect -- I'm still laughing!!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, I ran across this quote the other day -- "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path ... and leave a trail." I'm passing this along because this is what you do. You are leaving a wonderful trail for others to follow. Just one more time let me say Thank You for your work! And I repeat: Soldier On. Love you, brother!


Book by Hook --- Grit In My Gizzard, the autobiography of 88 year old Cecil Hook, a retired Church of Christ preacher who grew up on a farm in west Texas, can be ordered for just $7.00 (plus $1.75 shipping and handling) from Cecil Hook, 905 Forest Canyon Cove, Round Rock, Texas 78664-5621. Phone: (512) 716-3048. Email: Older readers will relate to his fascinating tales of life on the farm during the Great Depression, and younger readers will gain new insight into just how life really was back then. All readers will come to appreciate the changes Cecil Hook made in his preaching and teaching as he became more and more aware of our freedom in Christ. I have known Cecil and his family for many years (his sister was a member for several years of the congregation for which I preached in Santa Fe, NM), and he used to send me whole boxes of his first book "Free in Christ" to distribute free of charge. When I would run out of these excellent volumes he would send me more. Cecil is a fabulous brother and friend, a great thinker and author, and I know you will enjoy his autobiography. --- Al Maxey

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: